FERC's Spitzer: Texas well suited for plug-in hybrids

Mark Spitzer, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told a group of Houston electricity execs that Texas is in a good position to support the widespread use of plug-in hybrid electric cars. The key factors: excess wind power and growing use of “smart grid” technology.
The state has ample wind power potential, so much in fact that in parts of West Texas where most of the wind farms are located there’s more capacity than the grid can handle, Spitzer noted during a meeting of the Gulf Coast Power Association. The wind also blows hardest at night, when demand is the lowest.
And the state’s utilities have done more than most other states in adopting smart grid technology, which ranges from digital meters on homes and businesses to utility pole devices that give power companies greater ability to monitor and reroute power. State officials have also helped create a consistent set of technology standards for all companies to adopt.
Combined, this means thousands of Texans could start plugging in and recharging hybrid electric cars (think of a Toyota Prius with a standard electrical cord) overnight without having to add more power plant capacity, Spitzer said.
He said Texas “has the best opportunity in the United States to get this done.”
Spitzer is hardly a tree-hugger. A former Republican state senator in Arizona, Spitaer said he was surprised at the “no guns” sign at the Petroleum Club downtown. “That would never fly in Arizona,” he said. And he knows Texans have a very deep and personal relationship with their cars. But he said he’s been converted by FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff to the idea of plug-in hybrids as a way to reduce the use of foreign oil.
A few other items Spizter touched upon:

• He said he’s concerned about the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s desire to require all derivatives trading to be “cleared” through an exchange, saying that he’s heard from some small natural gas utilities the collateral requirements would be cost-prohibitive.

• He was also frustrated by a stance the CFTC is taking in the case of Amaranth Advisors and Bryan Hunter (where the FERC brought, and settled, charges of physical market manipulation). CFTC has argued FERC can’t bring such charges because the alleged physical price manipulation was done through futures contracts.
“It’s unbecoming to have two federal agencies arguing over these issues,” Spitzer said.

• An attempt to help make the review and permitting of offshore energy projects (i.e. wind and hydrokinetic) move smoothly was stalled for two years by the Minerals Management Service failing to sign a memorandum of understanding with FERC, which essentially would let FERC handle the process since it’s similar to the many other power projects it covers.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel visited with MMS staff over the issue, “… and the MOU was signed and sent over to us something like two hours later,” Spitzer said. “I’m a McCain guy, but that’s the kind of change I can believe in.”

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