‘We shouldn’t be using any fossil fuel’

WASHINGTON — Nevada has enough renewable energy resources to meet the state’s power demands but still needs to find a way to transmit that energy from remote areas, a federal energy official said Friday.

“We have enough geothermal in Nevada to power the entire state, in my opinion,” said Jon Wellinghoff, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Between geothermal and the wind and the solar, we shouldn’t be using any fossil fuel in Nevada,” Wellinghoff said during an interview with energy reporters. “But not all states are that lucky.”

Northwestern Nevada has vast amounts of geothermal energy but there is no “backbone transmission line” to move it to the rest of the state, Wellinghoff said.

In addition, energy demand in Northern Nevada is relatively low and individual developers of alternative energy can’t afford to pay for a transmission line.

Consumers likely would have to pay for the construction of a transmission line, Wellinghoff said. But consumer costs would decline as utilities and alternative energy developers connect to the line.

“On a national basis, we need to figure out how to take care of this issue because (there are) tremendous amounts of renewable, geothermal and wind energy resources in this country that are locked up in areas that don’t have adequate transmission to get out,” Wellinghoff said.

During his confirmation hearing in June before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pressed Wellinghoff to urge the release of more information from FERC about the Enron scandal.

On Friday, Wellinghoff declined to answer a question about Enron, citing FERC’s lawsuit against the defunct company.

Earlier this month, FERC attorneys submitted a brief to an administrative law judge claiming Enron should pay $1.5 billion for manipulating power markets that Wyden and other lawmakers say triggered an electricity crisis in the West from 1999 to 2002.

“There’s no federal agency that’s released more information about Enron (than FERC). The commission released Enron’s entire data base,” said FERC spokesman Bryan Lee.

The 57-year-old Wellinghoff is one of five FERC commissioners. His term is due to expire in June 2008. Asked about serving a second term, Wellinghoff said.

“I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. If Senator (Harry) Reid (D-Nev.) would like to recommend me again, I’d certainly be happy to consider that,” he said.

The only job he has enjoyed more was being Nevada’s first consumer advocate when he saved the state’s consumers $40 million from 1981 to 1988, Wellinghoff said.

“FERC is overseeing … two of the world’s largest machines — the gas pipeline system and the electric grid system, and just 5 percent (improvement in) efficiency in either one of those machines or both of them are huge gains for this country and things I’m really trying to focus on,” Wellinghoff said.

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