It’s All Connected – Regional Transmission Planning in the Southeast

Cross-posted from AOL Energy, published 11/13/12.

It’s All Connected – Regional Transmission Planning in the Southeast
by Bill White

More than two weeks have passed since Hurricane Sandy brought the Eastern Seaboard to a standstill. Although life is slowly returning to normal, Sandy joins a long series of painful reminders of how dependent 21st century America is on reliable electricity: it powers nearly every facet of our lives. The potential silver lining in the wake of Sandy’s devastation is the influx of interest in our outdated and inadequate transmission grid, highlighting long ignored issues from the benefits of buried transmission lines to the importance of an integrated, redundant, resilient grid – built to withstand even Sandy’s fury.

A robust and modern electric grid is also essential for taking advantage of America’s unmatched renewable energy resources. Wind and sunlight cannot be delivered to customers from their best sources – mostly remote areas and offshore – using railcars and pipelines like coal, oil, and gas; they need transmission lines. In the Southeast, where wind and solar are relatively scarce, transmission lines are critical for bringing cheap and abundant renewable resources from other regions. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which provides power to nearly all of Tennessee and other Southeastern areas, is now importing wind power from eight wind farms in the Midwest. Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company, last year made one of the largest wind purchases ever from producers in Oklahoma.

Several changes under way promise to accelerate the nascent interregional “trade” in cheap renewable energy. Dozens of outdated and inefficient coal plants across the Southeast will be shutting down over the next several years as new air pollution rules take effect; businesses and consumers are demanding more clean energy; and vehicle electrification is growing rapidly, especially in the Southeast. Nearly three percent of electric vehicles sold in the United States this year were registered in Tennessee. Not coincidentally, almost all of these were Nissan Leafs – soon to be manufactured at a plant in Smyrna. But electric vehicles are only as green as the power plants that charge them, and in the Southeast today, coal generates about half of the electricity. How the region invests in transmission will largely determine whether the power from retiring coal plants will be replaced by renewable resources.

A new planning framework unveiled last year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Order 1000, asks utility transmission planners to work together to solve the transmission challenge across large regions by avoiding duplication and building only those upgrades needed to strengthen the grid, improve reliability, increase efficiency, and integrate large amounts of renewable energy.

Additionally, Swiss engineering firm ABB Group announced a technological breakthrough last week that could solve the problem of transmission losses over very long distances. ABB’s new circuit breaker for high-voltage DC lines – far more efficient than AC lines over long distances – will allow large amounts of renewable electricity to be delivered over thousands of miles, for instance, from Iowa to Tennessee.

Americans have always responded to crises by replacing what was lost with something better, stronger, and smarter: building an even stronger foundation for future growth and prosperity. Let’s not wait for the next Sandy to modernize our electric grid – our most important infrastructure investment for the future of the Southeast – and the nation.

Bill White is a Senior Vice President at David Gardiner & Associates, with more than fifteen years of managing public-private partnerships advancing action on energy and climate change.

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FERC Action Ensures Regions Can Continue to Build a Modern, Competitive Grid

For Immediate Release
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011
Contact: Jennifer Mullin

FERC Action Ensures Regions Can Continue to Build a Modern Grid that Fosters Competition and Lowers Energy Prices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Americans for a Clean Energy Grid Senior Advisor Bill White released the following statement today after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) acted to uphold regional agreements:

“FERC’s actions today show a commitment to balanced regional solutions that will drive investments in our aging transmission system. Transmission is the backbone of a competitive and efficient electric system, and electricity is the lifeblood of our economy. The Commission upheld plans developed over months and years by local stakeholders in the Midwestern Independent System Operator (MISO) and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) that spread the costs of transmission to all of those who benefit.

“Both of these plans – SPP’s Highway/Byway method and MISO’s Multi-Value Projects – were created to overcome challenges the regions faced in building transmission to meet reliability needs, growing demand, and the desire to tap into cheaper, cleaner energy sources. They provide sensible ways to pay for electricity infrastructure that benefits broad regions of the country and accounts for pennies on a typical electric bill.

“FERC’s decision today to uphold regional planning practices underscores the importance of its own new planning and cost allocation rule. Order 1000 builds upon progress at the regional level and facilitates a more strategically-planned grid. Ultimately, it will help reform an archaic and bureaucratic system that often protects costly, dirty generation and leaves too many families and businesses with artificially high electricity costs.

“Taking into account the integrated nature of the transmission system – and common sense – FERC and regional planners have reached the same conclusion: stakeholders working cooperatively over broad regions will identify regional transmission solutions that are more cost-effective and beneficial to ratepayers than individual utilities or states could develop on their own.
“We applaud FERC for endorsing regional solutions to planning and paying for high voltage transmission. The MISO and SPP agreements are paving the way toward a more reliable, cheaper and cleaner energy future for all of us.”


Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG) is focused on expanding and modernizing the nation’s transmission system to meet America’s growing energy needs and unlock the potential of domestic resources and economic opportunity in every region of the country. ACEG supports smart state and federal policies that will improve the way the grid is developed, planned, and paid for.

ACEG is an initiative of the Energy Future Coalition (EFC) – a broad-based, non-partisan alliance that seeks to bridge the differences among business, labor, and environmental groups and identify energy policy options with broad political support.

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Press Release: Congress Should Support FERC Order 1000

For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Contact: Jennifer Mullin

Americans for a Clean Energy Grid: Congress should support FERC Order 1000 so that regions can continue to build a more reliable, modern grid

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Americans for a Clean Energy Grid Senior Adviser, Bill White released the following statement today prior to a U.S. House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing on electricity transmission and recent actions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC):

“It is encouraging that House lawmakers are taking a closer look at the numerous issues around transmission development today. Building transmission in this country has become an onerous and often overly contentious process that has kept the full scale deployment of clean energy at bay, and hurt consumers and businesses who deserve access to cheaper electricity and a more reliable grid.

“Two of the biggest challenges to building a more modern grid are planning and cost allocation, both of which were addressed in the new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rule – Order 1000. The modest changes made by Order 1000 build upon progress that regions throughout the country are already moving forward with, including recognizing the broad benefits of a robust grid, opening up access to competitive energy markets and tapping domestic resources that can lower electricity prices. These reforms reflect the natural progression of our electric grid toward a more strategically planned system that can accommodate the United States’ vast, underutilized domestic energy resources.

“Order 1000 gives deference to the regions to develop plans that fit their unique circumstances. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, it is a game changer for a small number of incumbent utilities that benefit from the current, broken system that protects high cost generation and holds many ratepayers captive to artificially high electricity costs. These opponents of common-sense transmission reforms support Congressional action that will override inclusive regional agreements for building transmission and halt investment in our grid.

“Transmission is the backbone of free and competitive electric markets, and essential to giving businesses and consumers access to the best energy resources at the lowest prices. A strong, reliable and modern grid benefits everyone by allowing innovation and competition to drive down prices. We encourage lawmakers to support FERC’s efforts to strengthen this essential market infrastructure.”


Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG) is focused on expanding and modernizing the nation’s transmission system to meet America’s growing energy needs and unlock the potential of domestic resources and economic opportunity in every region of the country. ACEG supports smart state and federal policies that will improve the way the grid is developed, planned, and paid for. Policy reforms are the key to ensuring our nation has a more robust, reliable, and secure network that supports expansion of renewable energy, competitive power markets, energy efficiency, and lowers costs for consumers. ACEG is an initiative of the Energy Future Coalition (EFC) – a broad-based, non-partisan alliance that seeks to bridge the differences among business, labor, and environmental groups and identify energy policy options with broad political support.

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California Blackout: What it Tells Us About Our Grid

Two weeks ago, an error by a maintenance worker in Arizona initiated a cascade of events that cut off electricity from Arizona to San Diego to Mexico.  Traffic was snarled, schools were closed, and business activity came to a halt as more than 3.5 million people literally sweated it out in 100-degree-plus heat until power was restored.  Fortunately, only 12 hours had elapsed, and although millions were inconvenienced and total costs will surely run into the tens of millions, the region dodged major economic losses, casualties, and loss of human life.  State and federal bodies have already announced plans to conduct investigations of the incident.  But we don’t need to wait for these reports to refresh some important lessons about the state of our nation’s electric grid and what to do about it:

First, our electric grid is vulnerable and outdated – it has simply not kept up with our ever growing demand for electricity.  Our grid uses technology more than half a century old, and critical facilities in many parts of the country are of a similar vintage.  It must be made smarter and stronger to meet our current and future needs.

Second, we depend more on electricity today than ever, a dependency that will continue to grow in the future.  Electricity is safe, clean, efficient, and flexible enough to perform innumerable tasks.  American homes, offices, health care facilities, and factories are using more electrical devices every day because they dramatically increase productivity and quality of life.  Electricity will power a growing share of our transportation miles over the next several decades.  It is reckless and completely unnecessary to allow reliable and affordable electricity – the lifeblood of our economy – to be put at risk by a rickety and antiquated grid.

Third, our grid, for all of its faults, is now a single interconnected “machine” over a few very large regions of the country.  Equipment failures in Arizona can shut the lights out in California, just as overloaded lines in Ohio blacked out 55 million people in eight states from Michigan to Boston – and the Canadian province of Ontario – in 2003.  Since everyone benefits from a uniformly robust electric system, everyone should share the modest cost of strengthening its weak links.   Transmission accounts for less than 10 percent of the average electric bill, so it makes sense to invest now to prevent the much larger costs of widespread system outages – an estimated $10 billion for the 2003 blackout alone.

Renewable resources like solar and wind are even more dependent on transmission lines.  Unlike fossil fuels, wind and sunlight can’t be moved in pipelines or rail cars.  Power lines are needed to move renewable electricity from remote areas where it is most economically produced – like the Great Plains and Desert Southwest – to where it is consumed, cities and suburbs around the country.  America is home to some of the greatest renewable energy resources in the world – enough to meet all of our energy needs many times over.  A robust and modern electric grid is the key to unlocking their potential.

Making our grid stronger does not mean we can’t make it smarter and more efficient; in fact, we need to do both.  If California’s recent blackout helps us work together toward those goals, we’ll be that much closer to addressing our economic and environmental challenges.

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Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Wants to “Power the Future” with Wind

In an op-ed article recently published in The Wichita Eagle, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback highlighted the role of the Kansas wind industry in boosting the economy of America’s Heartland — both in creating jobs and lowering electric bills for consumers. According to the Governor:

Experience has taught us that investment in the renewable-energy economy is creating jobs across all employment sectors, including construction, engineering, operations, technology and professional services, in both rural and urban communities. Greater use of renewable energy also will allow the country to prolong its current power-generation resources while developing new generation technologies to ensure a secure and homegrown supply of energy.

In Kansas and the lower Midwest, our local utilities have designed and are constructing an electric transmission system that ensures greater reliability for our residents, offers access to competitively priced power, and dramatically increases our ability to move renewable energy across the country.

The time has come for us to export clean, reliable and affordable wind energy to the nation.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Western Grid 2050: Provides a Clean Energy Vision & Roadmap for the West’s Economy and Environment

Blog written by: Carl Zichella

This article was originally published on switchboard.nrdc.org/

Despite the partisan bitterness infecting our politics, a consensus has quietly been taking hold across the country for a major change in the way we fuel our economy. A number of recent polls (see Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies, Californians and the Environment, Conservations in the West Survey) reveal strong public support for developing cleaner, cheaper, faster and safer forms of energy and that, moreover, this support bridges the partisan divide. It’s not “blue” or “red,” but red, white and blue, if you will. This may in fact be one of the few things most Americans can still seem to agree on: we can do better with our energy choices. We can make ourselves more prosperous, while unshackling ourselves from energy sources that foul our air, threaten our water supplies, lead us into international conflicts and destabilize our economy. Strong majorities of our people clearly want to see this change happen and have the U.S. receive many of the benefits that global leadership in a clean energy economy can bestow. They believe it can happen, want it to but may still wonder…how will it? What would such a future look like?

Western Grid 2050: Contrasting Futures, Contrasting Fortunes” a new report that for the first time offers two distinct alternatives for our energy future, giving policy makers and the public a credible look at what the Western U.S energy system and economy could look like at mid-century, was released by Western Clean Energy Advocates (WCEA) – an alliance of environmental groups (including NRDC) former utility regulators, renewable energy technology advocates, Native American energy activists and independent transmission companies. Western Grid 2050 is intended to begin a dialogue on the alternatives, so westerners can make an informed choice.

Perhaps most importantly Western Grid 2050 presents a balanced look at how we can meet future energy needs, including robust assumptions for aggressive “non-wires” energy solutions such as energy efficiency, small-scale “distributed” renewable generation as well as a variety of technical and behavioral changes to the way we operate the delivery side of the electrical grid, often referred to as “Demand Side Management” to complement the responsible and appropriately located development of large scale renewable energy resources and their related transmission.


Western Grid 2050 compares Business as Usual (BAU) scenarios with Clean Energy Vision (CEV) scenarios, contrasting the economic, public health, reliability and environmental impacts of both development paths. Its results show that our nation stands at a policy crossroad: one fork leads to a safer, healthier and cleaner future; the other to a cul de sac characterized by reliance on antiquated and costly energy choices and an electrical system that looks like it was designed for the 1950s. The development trajectory we embark on in the next decade will profoundly impact our energy future’s landing point.

  • Five scenarios were studied (BAU Base, BAU High Growth, CEV Low Demand, CEV Base Demand and CEV High Demand Case). Base data for the scenarios came from the Western Electricity Coordinating Committee, the entity responsible for coordinating and promoting bulk electric system reliability throughout the Western Interconnection.
  • In the BAU case investments are made on retrofitting and repowering coal generation and on developing new natural gas-fired generation. Renewable technologies are added only to meet existing legislative requirements, and efficiency measures and electrification of transportation are modest. Nuclear and hydro generation continue operating at current levels.
  • Transmission operations under BAU is largely unchanged and each of the 38 Balancing Areas in the West meets their own reliability requirements with little cooperation. Regulatory and business model paradigms remain unchanged. (Chapter 1, Page 11).
  • The CEV case invests significantly in demand reduction (through energy efficiency and conservation) and distributed renewable generation is pursued aggressively. There is a transition completely away from coal and no significant natural gas is added. Large-scale renewable development fills the generation gap. Existing natural gas is repurposed to ensure resource adequacy and reliability. Nuclear and hydro generation continue to operate at current levels.
  • For transmission operation under CEV significant investment is made in advanced information, communications and control system technologies. The grid would have greater flexibility and the ability to support the electrification of the transportation sector. Coordination between and among Balancing Areas across the West increases sharing and trading and reduces infrastructure redundancy.

Western Grid 2050 was commissioned by the Western Grid Group and authored by Carl Linville, John Candelaria and Ashley Spalding at the Aspen Environmental Group.

Not a Dream but an Emerging Reality
This progress envisioned by Western Grid 2050 is possible in part because the renewable energy future it projects is no longer just a dream, but an emerging reality that people can see in every single state in the West. Across the region the quality and quantity of these resources is truly amazing. From what is arguably the best solar resource in the world in the southwestern U.S. (in part because the generation is relatively close to tens of millions of consumers) to the phenomenal wind resource spanning the northern plains, Rocky Mountain Front, and the Columbia Gorge to California and Nevada’s geothermal hot spots, the richness of western renewable energy resources are already fueling a visible engine of economic change in every state.

The clean energy consensus being built today makes the CEV forecast by Western Grid 2050 an easily imaginable destination, and just possibly – due to its great benefits – a bridge that helps unite our battered body politic. It can best be reached if we choose to go, and go together. But choose we must.

As the old saying goes, “to go fast, go alone; to go far, go together.”

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Talking Transmission in Kansas — A Recap of ACEG’s Heartland Conference

The Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG), in cooperation with the Climate and Energy Project, recently hosted the Heartland Transmission Conference in Hutchinson, Kansas on August 15-17, 2011. Attended by over 150 people, the conference provided a forum for discussing transmission’s important role in enabling the integration of remote renewable energy resources to promote regional economic development in the Heartland.

Leading regional and national experts, including FERC Commissioner Marc Spitzer and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, discussed energy issues impacting Kansas and the nation.

During his keynote, Governor Brownback expressed a desire for Kansas to be known as “the Renewable State,” but explained, “To get there, we have to balance the three E’s: Energy, Economy and the Environment.”

To view a recording of Governor Brownback’s keynote and other event presentations, please click here

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ACEG to Host Heartland Transmission Conference, August 15-17

Heartland Wind

Expanding and Modernizing the Electrical Grid:
Essential Infrastructure for the Heartland’s Clean Energy Future

August 15-17, 2011

Hutchinson, Kansas
Registration is closed, but you can tune-in to Tuesday’s webcast from 9:00am-5:30pm Central.

Press Release


Governor Brownback

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

Commissioner Spitzer

Commissioner Marc Spitzer, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

The Energy Future Coalition, in cooperation with the Climate and Energy Project, is hosting a conference on the critical role of transmission in enabling the integration of remote renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, to promote regional economic development in the Heartland.

Leading regional and national experts on renewable energy and transmission will discuss key issues related to the planning, cost allocation, and siting of transmission lines, as well as the role of local, state, regional, and federal agencies.

Major federal regulatory action on new rules relating to transmission planning and cost allocation provide a timely and urgent context for this forum.

The conference will consist of three days of events, including panel discussions, keynote speeches, meals and receptions, and a tour of the new Siemens wind nacelle manufacturing plant.

Participants will include a broad range of stakeholders interested in energy issues within the Southwest Power Pool, such as electric utilities, regional businesses, elected officials, environmental interest groups, landowners, labor organizations, academic institutions, and the general public.

Registration is closed, but make sure to tune-in to Tuesday’s webcast.

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