Where’s My Wind? Outdated Grid Transmission in the U.S.

grid.jpeg Wind energy is facing yet another obstacle in the U.S. This time it’s about transmission issues. How do we connect various renewable energy projects to our nation’s grid? Currently, the U.S. transmission grid needs serious upgrading to handle the additional input of energy. In the meantime, wind turbines slated for installation have been collecting dust instead. Last week, the U.S. Senate held their first hearing on renewable energy and transmission. Don Furman (President-elect of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and Chair of AWEA’s Transmission Committee) gave testimony at the hearing and proposed the following considerations to mobilize our leaders into action.

1. The economic argument: New transmission would allow utilities the ability to offer cheaper electricity to their customers. The costs of transmission upgrade for renewable energy would also be historically cheaper. Consider the following information posted by AWEA: “In all, according to a report released last month by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the transmission investment needed for wind to provide 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030 would be about $60 billion, or about $3 billion per year – a modest amount compared to the $8 billion spent annually in recent years on transmission infrastructure.”
2. The reliability argument: Expanded transmission allows for less congestion and improved electrical reliability. (Think: Less chance for widescale black-outs like that experienced in the Northeast in 2005.)
3. The ecological argument: More wind energy means less GHG emissions and less water consumption.
4. The community argument: AWEA predicts that annual revenues from wind projects to local communities will be more than $1.5 billion and help create 500,000 jobs.
5. The responsibility argument: As the situation currently stands, utility companies charge both renewable energy companies and customers for transmission upgrades. In other words, both producers and consumers of renewable energy bear the brunt for transmission costs, while the utility companies benefit from increased revenue and increased electrical supply. This needs to change. AWEA and other renewable energy organizations contend that the Federal government should ensure the expansion of transmission lines and create a regulatory structure that is fair for consumers.
Compared to other industrialized countries, the U.S. lags far behind in renewable energy generation. Hopefully, this hearing begins an action-oriented approach towards alleviating the situation.

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and cutting-edge consultant for the auto industry. You can follow her test drives in the cars of the future at www.misselectric.com.