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Heinrich Delivers Keynote Address At Southwest Clean Energy Transmission Summit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, delivered the keynote address at the Southwest Clean Energy Transmission Summit. The event was hosted by the Energy Future Coalition and its "Americans for a Clean Energy Grid" electric transmission initiative. Senator Heinrich is a staunch proponent of growing New Mexico's clean energy economy and building a robust 21st century transmission infrastructure.

Below are Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you for the introduction, Suedeen.

Suedeen has a wealth of knowledge and I'm grateful for her leadership.

It's an honor to join you today for this incredible meeting of the minds to discuss what are among the most important issues of our time...

Including combating climate change and modernizing our grid to reflect cleaner sources, intermittency, storage, control and a two way grid that looks very different from the one my father worked on as a lineman in the 1980's.

I commend Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, a project of the Energy Future Coalition, for hosting these kind of summits across the country to bring together utilities, conservation advocates, consumer interests, landowners, elected officials, renewable energy producers, transmission developers, and others to seek pragmatic solutions and innovative opportunities.

My thanks to Managing Director John Jimison for inviting me to speak today-and to everyone who made this summit possible.

I'd also like to recognize my friend and colleague Congressman Ben Ray Luján who spoke a little earlier.

There are many extraordinary leaders here today who are at the forefront of innovation and who are instrumental to unlocking America's clean energy potential.

We are also lucky to have Norman Bay on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He is an outstanding public servant with extensive experience to address the nation's energy challenges. And he gets extra points in my book for being an ardent fly fisherman.

I am confident that when Norman becomes chair he will continue to judiciously implement the law focused on FERC's statutory responsibilities of energy infrastructure, competitive markets, and reliability.

Energy is at the heart of almost every issue across the country and a cornerstone of New Mexico's economy.

I am a strong believer that innovation is what America does best.

That boundless wonder and curiosity can lead to revolutionary discoveries.

That diligence and optimism can break down barriers.

I'm a believer that technology, and more importantly the scientific method, are how we can best meet many of our 21st century challenges.

And this is indeed a time of great challenge for our nation.

There is no question that it is easier to govern in a time of peace and prosperity than in a time of economic change and global unrest.

But Americans are no strangers to adversity and challenge. Time and again we have shown our ingenuity and our perseverance.

In fact, the very character of our nation has been shaped by hard work and innovation.

That is America's story.

And I am certain that our capacity to deal with the challenges that we face now rests heavily on our ability to make policy that is driven by facts, by data, and science.

Historically, America has responded to challenges with transformative innovations like electricity, radio and television, transistors, silicon computer processors, and the Internet. 

In New Mexico, we have built our economy around some of the greatest innovations of the modern era.

New Mexico Tech, the University of New Mexico, and New Mexico State University offered advanced degrees in chemistry and engineering as early as the 1890's.

After World War I, Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon military bases in our state provided supreme training conditions for the new flight wing of the Army that would eventually be called the United States Air Force.

During World War II, New Mexico was home to the Manhattan Project, which installed Los Alamos National Labs, White Sands Missile Range, and Sandia National Laboratories.

And over time, our national laboratories, universities, and defense installations have proven to be invaluable to research and development, not only for our state, but for our entire nation. 

It is our history of innovation and new technology that drive New Mexico's economy and our contributions to this great nation.

As our state faces the challenges of economic recovery and reversing the effects of climate change, we must embrace the challenge and lead the world in innovation and clean energy.

New Mexico, with its abundant wind and solar potential, can and should be the epicenter of America's clean energy economy.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I work every day to ensure this becomes a reality.

I'm supporting several proposals to help expand both traditional and renewable domestic energy production in our state.

It's going to take a lot more than one initiative or one law to transition our country from fossil fuels to renewable fuels. And given the current polarization in Congress, it's not going to be easy. But these are conversations we need to have. 

The transition of our nation's power generation portfolio to more efficient and cleaner technologies is already well underway and will surely accelerate as new regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan, are implemented. 

But there is a disconnect right now between transmission access and the best renewable energy resources.

There should be no doubt that full utilization of our renewable potential will only be possible when we have the transmission capacity in place to deliver that power to market. 

Our system of power transmission and federal regulation were designed for an era that no longer exists.
An era where energy flowed in one direction, from central generation thru transmission and distribution lines to homes and businesses where it was consumed.

The development of an interconnected transmission network, regional transmission operators, independent power producers, distributed generation, and energy storage are using the grid in a way no one foresaw just a few years ago.

At the same time, the Federal Power Act is now 80 years old and is increasingly limiting the full development of robust markets for electric power in interstate commerce.

We need to work together to ensure that the regulatory structure is in place so that priority transmission projects can be sited, financed, and built.

In New Mexico, building new transmission and modernizing our existing electrical grid is central to becoming a state where potential and reality actually meet. 

According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review, New Mexico was 10th in the nation last year for added solar capacity.

In fact, our state added 88 megawatts of solar electric capacity, bringing the total to 325 megawatts, which is enough energy to power nearly 75,000 homes.

That's double the amount of solar capacity added in 2013. And New Mexico is ranked No. 11 among all states in total installed solar capacity.

When it comes to wind, New Mexico is 18th in installed wind capacity, with 812 megawatts installed.

We should be a major exporter of electrical power. We can spur substantial additional renewable energy development by adding the transmission capacity that will allow us to export clean energy to markets in Arizona and California. 

The SunZia Southwest Transmission Line Project is a powerful example of this.

SunZia will connect and deliver electricity generated in New Mexico to demand in other states.

In May, we reached a resolution - one that many of you are familiar with - which will protect current and future missions at White Sands Missile Range while facilitating the construction of this line.

The agreement allows SunZia to invest private resources in the construction of a transmission line that will deliver renewable energy to hungry markets in the West. 

As a result, private investors will invest between 1 and 2 billion dollars into the state economies of New Mexico and Arizona.

Doing so, according to a study by New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona, will create thousands of construction sector jobs in our state and facilitate hundreds of permanent jobs associated with new generation.

The SunZia transmission line will literarily unlock our state's renewable resources by allowing ranchers and other property owners to develop wind and solar energy on their land.

And this isn't just about one line: this is about New Mexico choosing to diversify our economy, lessening our dependence on federal dollars, and charting a course for a more prosperous and sustainable future.

I'm confident that we will seize the opportunity, but we must continue to capitalize on other transmission opportunities as well-like Southline, Lucky Corridor, and others-that will allow us to make the most of our state's rich renewable resources and to put our state's ailing construction sector back to work.

The reality is, regional planning for transmission has not developed in the West as it has in the East and Midwest United States.

Other than California, most of the West does not have competitive markets for electric power generation.

Though the regional transmission organizations are developing elsewhere, the large distances and lower population densities in the West are less amenable to regional approaches.

The Western Interconnection can count dozens of individual balancing authorities that manage the operation of the local transmission grid.

FERC's Order 1000 is a step in the right direction for regional transmission planning and cost allocation, but more needs to be done.

The development of the new short-term Energy Imbalance Market in the West is one positive step and will help to better integrate intermittent resources like solar and wind into the marketplace.

We also need to improve the overall transmission siting, permitting, and review processes. And I hope you see me as a partner in this.

Ensuring that transmission projects get timely regulatory approvals, especially when there are multiple jurisdictions involved, is critical to realizing our nation's true clean energy potential. 

FERC has played a strong leadership role already with its order 1000, setting the rules on regional transmission planning and cost allocation.

Additionally, the administration has established a clearinghouse to try to streamline approvals on federal land.

Here in New Mexico, the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority helps develop new transmission and energy storage projects to promote development of clean energy technologies in our state.

In those few cases when the responsible state regulatory bodies cannot come to agreement on a priority project that has been selected as part of FERC's order 1000 process, Congress should establish an option for developers to seek approval directly from FERC. 

This is idea has been discussed for some time.

I intend to introduce legislation that will provide transmission siting authority at FERC as a backstop in the rare case where states have been unable to act on priority projects.

It is my hope that the Energy Committee will consider this proposal this year.

Additionally, next month the administration will release the first quadrennial energy review, which will include recommendations on energy infrastructure--including transmission--that I look forward to studying.

Modernizing our nation's electric grid isn't just about new jobs, or harnessing our innovative clean energy potential in the West, it is also about reducing carbon pollution and preventing the devastating and costly consequences of climate change. 

I believe it's our moral obligation to lead in addressing our climate crisis. The world is watching.

Climate change is no longer theoretical. It's one of those stubborn facts that doesn't go away just because we choose to ignore it. 

In New Mexico we're seeing bigger fires, drier summers, and less snowpack in the winter.  And with humidity levels lower, and temperatures higher, we are dealing with fire behavior that is markedly more intense than in the past. 

Over the last four years, we have seen the two largest fires in New Mexico's history.  With elevated temperatures, studies at Los Alamos National Labs predict that three quarters of our Evergreen Forests in New Mexico could be gone by 2050.

At the same time, in the past several years, we've experienced some of our driest periods since record keeping started in the mid-19th century. 

This is a tragedy, and we must start taking concrete steps to reverse it--we owe that to our children. We owe that to the next generation.

We have the technology. We have the resources. We have the human capital.

I know that through American ingenuity we will unleash the full potential of clean, homegrown energy and put Americans to work while we're at it.

With that, I look forward to getting to your questions.