Restructuring Electric Power Grid for ‘Clean Energy’ Reflects ‘Religious Fervor of the Radical Left,’ GOP Lawmaker Says

Penny Starr | April 26, 2012 | 10:12pm EDT
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( – In a Mar. 16 memorandum, Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined plans to change the long-standing public-private management of the nation’s hydroelectric distribution operations in an effort to advance the Obama administration’s green energy agenda, critics charged on Thursday.

The memo was the focus of a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources to examine Chu’s plan, which includes centralizing oversight of the electric power grid to the federal government and setting rates based on criteria that would benefit wind, solar and other “renewable” energies.

“I wonder what is going on really here,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said at the hearing. “I mean, isn’t this an ideology preference by elements on the left for wind and solar electricity above all other sources regardless of the costs?”

“And the costs are considerable,” he said.

Mark Crisson, the president and CEO of the American Public Power Association – one of the private non-profits that partners with the federal government to operate 2,000 community-owned electric utilities that serve 46 million Americans in 49 states --  responded to the California lawmaker.

Crisson said integrating renewable energy sources into the power grid could increase costs.

“Let me put it this way,” Crisson said. “We find it very puzzling and confusing that an administration that touts an ‘all of the above’ energy policy would favor providing incentives for intermittent wind and solar at the expense of hydro-power and hydro-power customers.”

“That’s because this has nothing to do with science or with economies,” McClintock said. “It has everything to do with a religious fervor on the radical left.”

Crisson also told McClintock that dependent upon how much of the memo’s ideas is put into place, the cost of electricity “could go up a lot.”

“Today's hearing is about protecting millions of electricity consumers from potentially expensive Washington, D.C. mandates put together under the cover of darkness and without any input from those most impacted,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks.

Hastings said the changes Chu wants to make to the Power Marketing Administrations (the private sector organizations that manage electricity production and distribution from federal waterways) could jeopardize providing “low-cost, renewable hydropower to millions of families and small businesses.”

“This mission has worked well for generations and nothing seems to be broken, yet the energy secretary has chosen to rope the PMAs into a larger ideological agenda,” Hastings said. “An agenda I believe will raise energy costs during these troubling economic times.”

“Americans are already struggling to fill up their tanks due to the rising price of gasoline, and the last thing they need is to pay more every time they flip on the light switch,” Hastings said.

According to Web site, Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) “are four federal agencies within the Department of Energy responsible for marketing hydropower -- primarily excess power produced by federal dams and projects operated by the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The four federal PMAs, which market and distribute power to 60 million people in 34 states, are required to give preference to public utility districts and cooperatives, and sell their power at cost-based rates.”

Glenn English, an Oklahoma Democrat who served 10 terms in the House and is now the CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, was also a panelist at the hearing who expressed concern over Chu’s plans to centralize oversight of the vast power grid that is spread across the western United States to the federal government.

“Since each of these regions is so complex and policies are developed in partnership with the federal power customers, PMAs have been statutorily headquartered in the geographic areas in which they serve, rather than in Washington, D.C.,” English said. “Secretary Chu’s memo seems to bring an end to that practice, which is a big concern to our members.

“The federal power customers and the electric consumers they serve are not convinced that a ‘Washington-knows-best’ approach will result in improved delivery of electricity,” English said.

Ranking Member Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) used his time at the hearing to criticize the Republicans for equating modernizing the electrical grid with higher energy costs and he praised Chu for his “vision” and claimed the plan would reduce costs to consumers.

“You can’t get anywhere without a vision, and a plan is a first step that lays the foundation for renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand response, smart grid and other innovations to become fundamental pieces of our electricity system,” Markey said.

Markey went so far as to call the PMAs “socialists” for the model of electricity production and distribution now in place.

“Inefficient socialist power – and that’s what all these power marketing administrations are,” Markey said. “They’re all socialists right to their core -- socialist power systems and restrictions to free competition.

“Of all the things that are socialist in America, this is at the top of the list,” Markey said.

Chu was invited to testify at the hearing but declined because he is attending a clean energy conference in Europe.

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