Americans for a Clean Energy Grid’s Ben Springer and John Jimison recently wrote an article (excerpted below) for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. The piece outlined the opportunities for expanding electricity transmission, and the political challenges standing in the way. The full article can be accessed here.
The scientific community has reached consensus that greenhouse gas emissions must fall 80% by 2050 if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. In the US, the Obama administration has recently revived efforts to act on climate, and is pursuing several administrative actions aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
In order to get us to the 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, significant reforms of the electricity sector – which accounts for 33% of US emissions – are needed. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported that we are able to meet this goal with current resources and technology. In order to achieve this goal, we need to tap rich renewable resources such as wind in the Great Plains and solar power in the desert southwest. The key, however, will be the development of transmission to move the energy from where it is produced to where it is needed.
This seems like an easy solution: renewable energy is concentrated in remote areas, so let’s build the requisite wires to get it to population centers. Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward. High voltage transmission lines are large, unsightly and expensive. The regulatory wrangling around allocating costs and siting lines is byzantine, time-consuming and often becomes acrimonious. And many states and utilities that rely on fossil fuel generation – which is usually located relatively close to demand centers – often aren’t interested in new transmission.