While the Beltway conventional wisdom is that building transmission lines is “simply not feasible,” lines are in fact being built. Transmission investment is rising from a mid-1990s trough, with most new development specifically benefiting renewables. Regulators in the great wind belt stretching from Texas to North Dakota, covering ERCOT, the Southwest Power Pool and MISO, have approved $20 billion of new lines to bring wind power to market.
Recent reports suggest transmission investments are accelerating. One analyst found that North American investments in transmission rose from about $11.2 billion in 2010 to $22 billion in 2012, and with “continued high teens growth in 2013 and 2014.” The $6.5 billion per year needed to meet the NREL 80 percent renewable future seems doable.
John Jimison on E&E TV.
The primary barriers to building new high voltage lines and optimizing the grid aren’t so much technical or economic but rather bureaucratic. Inefficient institutions and insufficient policies are the key factors preventing the United States from accessing its rich resources of clean energy, and spreading that wealth throughout the economy. The grid has been stymied by:
There is progress in resolving these problems. In the Midwest, MISO has been able to integrate more than 12,000 MW of wind generation, about ten percent of the region’s total generating capacity, with few pains, thanks to larger balancing areas and shorter dispatch periods, better forecasting tools, and geographic diversity. They have seen very little increase in their need for operating reserves, even with this large amount of wind energy on their system. They are planning for the next 10 percent with a comprehensive and inclusive process that aligns state policy goals for renewables with transmission expansions.
But more needs to be done. We go into depth on these issues in our paper for America's Power Plan, "Planning for and Investing in Wires."
We must work on five key areas:
Transmission upgrades and expansion are a critical part of any long-term investment plan for America’s future. It is clear that these investments deliver benefits far exceeding their costs, and they are essential to delivering high levels of renewable energy to consumers.
The barriers to making these urgently needed investments are institutional – and not due to costs or technical issues. Smart policy reforms can enable a grid that will maximize the value of the country’s energy resources by delivering them to the homes and businesses that need them.
John Jimison is Managing Director for the Energy Future Coalition, and Bill White is a consultant for David Gardiner and Associates. They work together on Americans for a Clean Energy Grid. Bentham Paulos is the director of America’s Power Plan.
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