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MIT calls for federal backing for wind

UNITED STATES: The sprawling US transmission grid is up to the challenge of integrating growing amounts of wind power and other renewables, but will require specific policy changes to adapt as the next two decades unfold, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In a study published last month, researchers at the prestigious university underscore the dire need for a federal agency with authority to settle siting squabbles as dozens of stakeholders haggle over proposed long-distance lines that cross state borders and cut through several of the 107 balancing areas that exist within the US.

Among the study's recommendations is a call for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) to be granted proactive siting power, or at least be designated as a backstop to ultimately resolve disputes.

"MIT is correct to focus the study on siting and many of the other grid-operating reforms that we've been pushing heavily," said Michael Goggin, manager of transmission policy for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). "Things like moving to faster generator dispatch and improving balancing-area co-ordination, as well as better wind-energy forecasting."

Cyber defence

The study additionally calls for a federal agency — presumably the Deparment of Homeland Security — to address growing concerns over the portentialfor cyber attack.

Also examined are the virtues and shortcomings of Ferc's Order 1,000 cost-allocation methodology, the use of smart meters to gather data and the pitfalls due to a growing number of electric vehicles adding untold strain to the grid.

The two-year study, including a 24-page chapter dedicated to variable energy resources, was commissioned by the MIT Energy Initiative.

Research was carried out by 13 MIT faculty members and one from Harvard University, with participation from ten graduates and 19 advisors from industry, government and academia.

"We're trying to take a cold look and say there are issues and there are costs. They can be managed," said study co-director Richard Schmalensee, MIT professor of economics and management."They don't go away with the wave of a hand, but they also don't cause the lights to go out. So let's be reasonable here."

Goggin believes such studies are eagerly consumed by many players and ultimately have an impact that helps shape policy. "People pay attention," he said. "The more credible forces you have making these points, the more you strengthen arguments being made by groups like AWEA for why we need these grid-operating reforms."

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