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Grid Investment Gap Could Cause Blackouts and Brownouts Costing Consumers $200 Billion by 2020

In many parts of the United States, the transmission lines that provide us with reliable, low-cost electricity are rapidly aging, which can lead to increased blackouts and brownouts. Some of the nation’s 450,000 miles of transmission lines are 50 or more years old. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 70% of our transmission lines and transformers are at least 25 years old.

Source: Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Electricity Infrastructure
Source: Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Electricity Infrastructure
As our economy becomes more dependent on electricity, the demands we place on the electric grid will intensify, leading to increased blackouts and brownouts. A new report, Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Electricity Infrastructure, released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) predicts that power outages will cost American businesses and households almost $200 billion by 2020. On the other hand, investing just $11 billion per year in electricity infrastructure can help protect 529,000 jobs, $656 billion in personal income, $496 billion in GDP, and $10 billion in U.S. exports.

While investment in the electric grid has increased slightly in the past decade, we are still underinvesting in our transmission infrastructure. In order to connect remote renewable energy resources, like wind in the Midwest and solar in the Southwest, we need to build the infrastructure to deliver that power to the cities and towns where it is needed. You can’t put wind in a railcar, and you can’t put the sun in a pipeline – you need transmission lines to deliver these renewable energy resources to market. New regulations, such as Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Order 1000 and the Department of Energy’s Memorandum on Grid Modernization in the Power Marketing Administrations, will help spur the investments needed to develop a 21st Century clean energy grid.

To read the full ASCE report, and to view infographics summarizing their findings, click here.

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Joining the Clean Energy Workforce: A First-Hand Account

“Once in a lifetime opportunity” is a cliché too often employed by bad infomercials, but I can honestly say that my Cloud County Community College internship has been just that. My name is Tanner Smith, and I am studying in Concordia, Kansas to earn a degree in applied science in wind energy.

Before college, I didn’t understand the reasons or benefits for doing an internship. Why would someone want a job while they were still in college? Isn’t that what college is for? However, when my instructors approached me with an opportunity to do an internship at a wind farm in Spearville, Kansas, I thought it may be something I could benefit from and enjoy. So I submitted my résumé, and I was selected for a six week summer internship.

I packed up my things and headed towards western Kansas. About twenty miles outside of Spearville is when I saw my first glimpse of the wind farm that I would grow to love. My first day on the job was a little overwhelming; I had no idea what to expect. I was so excited and nervous that I forgot to pack a lunch! I will never forget my first day – it started with a tranquil light thunderstorm passing over the 1.5 megawatt GE wind turbines before the three-man crews could go out and work for the day. The feeling of anxiousness came over me when our foreman, Tim, told me that I would be conducting mechanical maintenance on turbine number thirteen (yes, I remember exactly which turbine it was). On my very first day on the wind farm I was going to be climbing a commercial-sized wind turbine! I quickly learned that no matter how good of shape you are in, climbing a 300 foot ladder with gear on can prove to be quite exhausting. Once at the top, we had to go through the typical maintenance measures – changing filters; checking torques, generator brushes, and brake pressure; and among many other tasks, lots of cleaning.

The internship consisted of in-depth instruction from wind technicians on how to troubleshoot, repair, and service these impressive machines. I will save the details for another time, but one of the most memorable experiences I had during my internship was stepping out on top of the nacelle and taking in the view from “my office.” That was one of the most exhilarating and proud moments that I have ever felt in my entire life. Standing on top of a wind turbine truly feels like you are standing on top of the world. It’s a rush unlike any other I have experienced, and to get paid to do something that I enjoy that much seems almost absurd. At that moment I thought, “This is exactly what I want to do. This is my dream job.” It may not be flashy, clean, or easy, but to find a job that fits your work ethic and challenges you in different ways every day is a great feeling. Plus, no one can frown upon a job that makes a difference in the environment and the clean energy movement. This is the kind of job that, 25 years down the road at my high school reunion, I will feel proud to tell anyone that I am a wind turbine technician.

In short, that is how going through this internship program affected me – by giving me applicable hands-on experience with wind turbines. By the time I graduate from Cloud County Community College, I will know that I am ready to work in the wind industry, and I will have the real-world experience to back it up. So was this internship a “once in a lifetime opportunity?” Yes and no. Yes, because I will never have an experience that impacts my career more than this internship. No, because I hope to work on wind turbines every day for the rest of my career.

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Report Details Job Benefits of New Transmission Lines

A new report released today by WIRES (Working Group for Investment in Reliable and Economic electric Systems), in conjunction with the Brattle Group, outlines the economic benefits to increased investment in transmission infrastructure projects in the United States and Canada.

The analysis finds that needed investments in the U.S. electric grid could reach $12-$16 billion annually (C$5 billion annually in Canada) between 2010 and 2030, and spur an additional $30-$40 billion in annual economic activity. This investment would create 150,000-200,000 new full-time jobs over in each of the next 20 years, as well as 20,000-50,000 jobs in Canada. In addition, building these transmission lines would unlock location-constrained renewable energy, creating an additional 130,000-250,000 jobs in the renewable energy industry.

The report can be found here.

“This report provides strong evidence that meeting the grid’s challenges – including delivery of power from remote renewable generation to load centers far away – is good for the economy and will help create jobs,” said WIRES President Jolly Hayden, Vice President of Transmission Development at NextEra Energy Resources. “Strengthening the transmission grid will also address major reliability issues, reduce production costs, enhance competition for customers in wholesale power markets, contribute to fuel diversity, and help reduce wholesale power prices. Brattle’s analysis should give policy makers confidence that the benefits will exceed the costs.”

However, a number of policy barriers must be overcome before these benefits are realized, including how to pay for, plan, and permit new transmission lines. According to Jolly Hayden, “We are not looking to government to do anything but take a fresh look at how the grid is planned, permitted, and paid for today under procedures that pre-date the emergence of modern electric generation technology and regional power markets. Although transmission investment is on the rise, there is plenty of evidence that good projects are falling victim to duplication and delay, lack of regional coordination, and parochial interests. That means the economy suffers too. If regulatory risk can be diminished, private capital will do the rest. Today, many utilities, developers, and technology firms are trying — often in vain — to participate in strengthening our energy infrastructure.”

To download the WIRES analysis, click here.

utility worker

Larry Bell Misleads Readers in Forbes

Columnist Larry Bell recently published a misleading critique of the state of the American renewable energy industry in his article “Too-Green-To-Fail Energy Policies Fail Achievement Tests.” Mr. Bell made a slew of errors (including misidentifying FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff as “Jon Wellington,”), many of which were pointed out by Michael Goggin in his article, “Fact Check: Larry Bell’s List of Errors.” To give you an idea of the number of erroneous statements in Mr. Bell’s article, consider this excerpt from Mr. Goggin’s response:

I’d recommend going back and reading the DOE report, as you’d find that it directly refutes almost all of your attacks on wind energy. For example, it’s hard to claim that wind energy isn’t abundant, when the report identifies enough economically viable wind resources to meet our electricity needs a dozen times over. It’s also difficult to attack wind’s emissions benefits when the report concludes that 20% wind would reduce CO2 emissions by 825 million tons in the year 2030 alone and 7.6 billion tons cumulatively, in addition to large amounts of other harmful pollutants. Moreover, the report finds 20% wind would save 4 trillion gallons of water cumulatively by 2030 and substantially reduce natural gas prices by diversifying our energy portfolio away from fossil fuels. The DOE study also finds 20% wind could create over 500,000 new jobs, making it difficult for you to claim that wind energy is not a powerful job creation tool.

Unfortunately, the misstatements don’t stop there. Mr. Bell also attacks the Midwest ISO’s (MISO) Multi-Value Projects (MVP) cost allocation proposal by stating that, “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellington [sic, Wellinghoff] announced plans to impose a $300 million to $500 million surtax on utility bills to cover the costs of creating renewable power transmission lines across 13 Midwest states.” To begin addressing this misinformed statement, characterizing this as Mr. Wellinghoff’s plan is simply incorrect. Not only did the MVP plan originate from the Midwest ISO, but 83% of MISO states approve of the proposal. In addition, MISO’s proposal would proportionately allocate costs from new transmission lines to ratepayers based on reliability and economic benefits, not arbitrarily spreading the costs around as Mr. Bell would have his readers believe. What’s more, these additional costs are a small proportion of consumers’ utility bills, averaging about 7% nationwide and only 4% in MISO member Michigan. If every single “Starter Project” line proposed under the MVP plan were approved (an unlikely scenario that would cost $5 billion), Midwest ISO ratepayers’ utility bills would only increase by $0.60 per month — a number that looks much different than Mr. Bell’s alarmist “$300 million to $500 million surtax.”

The United States should make much-needed investments in transmission infrastructure to harness location-constrained renewable energy resources that will increase U.S. energy independence, increase national security, reduce costly blackouts, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create good manufacturing and construction jobs that can’t be outsourced. Misleading arguments such as Mr. Bell’s will unfortunately maintain the status quo, keeping the United States dependent on dirty fossil fuels and foreign oil instead of utilizing this opportunity to transition the United States towards a clean and safe energy future.

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New Transmission Lines Would Save Consumers Hundreds of Dollars

A recent study, detailed in this article by Jack Smith of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, shows how new transmission lines from wind farms in West Texas to the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area would “enable a huge expansion of the state’s wind-power industry, lower electric bills, generate jobs, reduce emissions and conserve water.”

The study was conducted by the Perryman Group, and is available for download here.  It states that the average Texan would save between $160 and $355 once the new high-voltage transmission lines were built.

Titled “Winds of Prosperity,” the study concludes that “construction and development of the new transmission facilities as well as anticipated wind turbine development is estimated to lead to gains in business activity in the state totaling $30.6 billion in output (gross product) and 383,972 person-years of employment.”

Click here to read the article from the Star-Telegram.

Click here to read the full report from the Perryman Group.

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Green Power Transmission Line Given New Life

Cascade County Wind Turbine | Photo courtesy of the Cascade County Commission

Thanks to funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, construction of a green power transmission line stretching from Lethbridge, Alberta in Canada, down to Great Falls, Mont., was put back on track after a bank failure.

Currently under construction, the Montana-Alberta Tie Line, which is owned by Toronto-based Tonbridge Power, will connect the electricity markets of Alberta and Montana and bring about 600 megawatts of wind-generated power to communities throughout the Western U.S. and Canada.

Echoing U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s comment last fall, Peggy Beltrone, a Cascade County, Mont., commissioner, says the 214-mile green power line will create jobs and begin the build-out of transmission networks needed to invigorate and expand the wind energy business in Montana.

“This new transmission line, and the accompanying wind farms, will create high wage jobs, needed property taxes and substantial revenues to landowners,” Beltrone says. “The clean energy investment carries an economic impact of over $1 billion.”

The transmission line should generate about 150 construction jobs and 50 to 75 green jobs directly related to the wind energy companies, which have secured space for their wind farms along the line.

Montana is ranked third in terms of wind energy potential in the U.S., according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report published in February.

The new wind farms will also be a good source of revenue for Cascade County.

“Our economic strategy is to attract wind parks because they have a high property tax value,” says Beltrone, who came to Washington this week to speak at the White House about the new sustainable communities grant program. “Rural communities suffer from shrinking tax base; wind energy helps communities restore public services.”

The new 230-kilovolt line will carry about 300 MW of Montana wind-generated power north to markets in Canada and another 300 MW to U.S. markets. That’s enough to power about 35,000 homes.

The Western Area Power Administration loaned Tonbridge stimulus funds totaling $161 million after a bank failure. The company stepped in because the new bank owners did not honor the original bank credit commitment.

Private investments total over $70 million for the $215 million project. Construction should be completed by the middle or end of this year.

“What the Recovery Act did was take a really, really, really big boat and help turn it around,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told the Billings Gazette last month.

This story was originally posted on the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Energy Empowers” Blog. Permalink.