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Interstate Electricity Transmission Superhighway Essential to Growth of Low-Carbon Technologies

Big money is backing wind power, and the number of investors ready to step up to the plate continues to grow. But according to an article in Renewable Energy World, that growth is hampered by a lack of a nationwide “electronic transmission superhighway”.

In the sixties America created the interstate superhighways that now crisscross our nation. Now, our country’s energy security depends on a new interstate initiative. Will the U.S. government step up to the plate?

“Across the country, hundreds of wind projects comprising tens of thousands of wind turbines are on hold because no one wants to step forward and pay for upgrades that will primarily benefit others. The obvious solution to this problem is a policy framework that will allow firms interested in building new transmission to collect the costs of the infrastructure investment from those who will benefit from it.”

Richard Sergel, president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and Kevin Kolevar, DOE’s assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, have pointed out in recent testimony before Congress that all low-carbon technologies, from large-scale wind projects to concentrated solar power, and even nuclear and “clean coal” technologies, require an updated electric grid because they are most often located in remote areas. The map above shows the Transmission Superhighway Vision put forth by the American Wind Energy Association and American Electric Power, an investor-owned utility that spans 11 states.

Photo Credit: AWEA

Beyond speeding the transition to wind power, a new transmission grid is needed to avoid power disruptions like the electricity blackout of 2003. The American Institute of Physics reports that government deregulation has ignored the inherent physics of the nation’s power grid, which should be viewed as one big machine. This has created serious problems:

  • Instead of treating electricity as an essential service, it is treated as a commodity
  • Power companies compete regionally and avoid sharing usage and transmission data, such as blackout statistics
  • The national grid is not viewed as the single “machine” that it is, resulting in congestion at the regional level when demand increases unexpectedly
  • Independent power producers create generating units at “essentially random” locations due to low labor costs or lax state regulations, or tax incentive
  • The cost of electricity has increased to the end-users

It is hoped that a new administration will finally address the state of our national electricity grid. If it doesn’t it won’t be because of cost. “Given that electricity transmission infrastructure typically remains in service for 50 years or more, the cost of the investment for the average household would be equivalent to about US $0.35 per month, less than the cost of a postage stamp.” –Michael Goggin, AWEA, in Renewable Energy World

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Written By

Carol Gulyas is a leader in the renewable energy community in Illinois, where she serves as VP of the Board of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. Recently she co-founded EcoAchievers -- a provider of online education for the renewable energy and sustainable living community. She spent 18 years in the direct marketing industry in New York and Chicago, and is currently a teaching librarian at Columbia College Chicago. Carol grew up in a small town in central Indiana, then lived in the Pacific Northwest, Lima, Peru, and New York City. She is inspired by reducing energy consumption through the use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green building technology.

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