Call for a green smart grid in the U.S.


Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — March 10, 2009 – A modern transmission system that is able to deliver clean, abundant renewable energy to homes and businesses efficiently and reliably is essential to meeting America’s economic, energy, and climate challenges in the coming years, two green trade groups have said in a new report.

The report “Green Power Superhighways: Building a Path to America’s Clean Energy Future” from the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, says that renewed investment in the country’s transmission infrastructure is necessary for the massive deployment of renewable generation envisioned by President Obama to occur.

Currently almost 300,000 MW of wind projects, more than enough to meet 20 percent of the U.S.’s electricity needs, are waiting in line to connect to the grid because there is inadequate transmission capacity to carry the electricity they would produce. Similarly in the solar industry, in California alone more than 13,000 MW of large solar power plants are waiting to connect to the grid, most of which will require new or significant upgrades to the existing transmission grid.

The two associations argue that to promote the expansion of renewable energy, the transmission grid should be built to link areas with vast potential to generate clean electricity to the areas that have significant demand for electric power. Such “green power superhighways”, as they are termed, would use high voltage transmission lines in place of the low voltage lines commonly deployed in the U.S. today.

However, the chief factors impeding the development of these green power superhighways are not technical or economic, but rather policy barriers. Moreover, outmoded regulatory structures that give companies little or no economic incentive to invest in transmission need to be updated.

In particular reform is needed in three broad areas, the associations say. The first step in building green power superhighways is to develop a comprehensive plan. This requires both the Western Interconnection and the Eastern Interconnection to develop regional transmission plans that identify where new or expanded transmission capacity is necessary to connect renewable energy resources to the grid and, ultimately, to load centers.

Facilities identified in the interconnection-wide plan as necessary for the development of green power superhighways should be eligible for broad, regional cost allocation. Specifically, FERC should allocate, based on electricity usage, the capital and operating costs of these transmission lines across all load serving entities on an interconnection-wide basis.

In addition substantial reform of the transmission siting process is required to meet national renewable energy goals. The most effective model is the siting authority that was given to FERC over interstate natural gas pipelines. For green power superhighways, the extra high voltage facilities defined in the regional plans would be subject to FERC approval and permitting. Separate siting approval at the state level would not be required. FERC would act as the lead agency for purposes of coordinating all applicable federal authorizations and environmental reviews with other affected agencies.

Modernizing America’s outdated transmission infrastructure will not be easy, say the associations. “It will require bold, forward looking action from leaders who recognize that addressing America’s economic, energy, and climate challenges must be a top priority in the coming years.”