Transmission construction in the U.S. began a downward trend in the mid-1980’s after the electric power industry stopped building massive coal and nuclear plants.
This trend continued through the 1990’s due to congressional requirements that electric utilities separate their transmission and generation functions. Fortunately, it has reversed itself as a result of the growing wind industry in America.
Unfortunately, we are still woefully short of the high-voltage lines needed to power America’s economic growth with low-carbon resources like wind.
Three major issues must be addressed to achieve the grid of the future and capitalize on wind energy’s new status as “America’s most affordable energy choice.”
One, we must have leadership. Political leadership and industry leadership. Our leaders must accept and promote that our new industries are asking for more reliable power resources and for cleaner resources. Transmission expansion is key to the success of both, and there are plenty of benefits to talk about.
Second, Regional Transmission Organizations (RTO’s) and other planning authorities must not just plan for the grid in 2020. They must think 20 to 30 years further out. With transmission construction taking 10 years, a decade-long plan is “just-in-time transmission” and will ultimately lead to addressing the same issues over and over. Paralysis by analysis is a common theme. RTO’s must not overanalyze transmission expansion, or think the plan is the end game. Efficiently investing capital in our grid to integrate new low-carbon resources is the goal, not just a robust plan.
Finally, enough already of the jurisdictional battles. Capital markets need certainty and transmission expansion for wind needs capital. We need a predictable business environment at all levels for wind energy to keep growing to 20 percent of the U.S. power market and beyond.
Condensed from remarks at the Ohio Wind Energy Summit, Sept. 24 in Columbus, on the panel, “Delivering to Market: Transmission Issues in Ohio and the Region.”
Photo credit: Wind turbine component manufacturing at Able Manufacturing and Assembly in Joplin, Missouri – photo by Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce