Modernizing and expanding the nation’s electric grid is the key to unlocking America’s vast potential to generate clean energy from sources such as wind and solar. Expanding the grid to its current scale was one of the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century. The 21st century requires greater reliability and further electrification of our economy, but it also requires clean energy that does not contribute to climate change.
Potential renewable energy projects are languishing around the country as developers await construction of the transmission lines needed to carry power to consumers – it takes more than twice as long to build a transmission line as it does to build a wind-farm or a solar-energy array, but there is no current market path that allows transmission to go first. Current renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal power are abundant, but our aging electricity grid doesn’t connect renewable energy-rich regions to the population centers that need it most. As of 2009, there were 300,000 MW of wind projects waiting to connect to the grid – that’s enough capacity to meet approximately 20 percent of our electricity needs.
Modernizing our grid not only gives more Americans access to diverse electricity resources and the jobs and environmental benefits they bring. A secure, flexible and robust grid enables operators to balance the flow of energy from variable renewable energy sources and enhance the reliability of our nation’s power supply. Renewable energy is not only clean, it is also affordable. Once a developer has invested the upfront capital costs, the wind, the sunshine, and the heat of the earth itself – unlike fossil fuels – are free, meaning that a renewable energy producer will always send his or her electricity output to market, regardless of the prevailing market price, thus providing a profound influence toward lower market prices.