US energy regulator softens tone on renewables

Last month Jon Wellinghoff, chair of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, caused a stir by saying the country may have already built its last coal and nuclear plants, because renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass would provide enough energy to meet future demand. He also said concerns about ‘baseload’ power supply – a concern with solar and wind as they do not yield consistent levels of power around the clock – would become an anachronism. Distributed power generation would be possible, and in many even better than fossil fuel or nuclear supplies because they could be more easily ‘ramped up or down’.

As the New York Times put it, Mr Wellinghoff’s statements “went beyond the consensus view”. And The New Republic wondered if he was channelling Greenpeace.

But yesterday he clarified his remarks somewhat. Platts reported his comments at a meeting yesterday:

“Ultimately, I was talking about a scenario” involving demand response and other technologies “where there may be a point where it would be feasible to utilize what are thought of as variable resources to really meet peak loads in a very reliable way,” Wellinghoff said Tuesday at a Washington press event. “Reliability is the key.

“But ultimately that was a scenario,” the chairman continued. “What is the future role of coal and nuclear in this country? The markets will decide.”

Related stories:

US FERC chairman says markets will decide fate of coal, nuclear (Platts 12/05/09)

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