Big problem facing the Green New Deal: A lack of power lines to deliver wind and solar – Washington Examiner


The Green New Deal would require an overhaul of the transmission lines that deliver wind and solar power, a major logistical obstacle to the progressive plan for radically revamping the economy to address climate change.

The Green New Deal’s plan to ramp up federal funding for wind and solar to reach 100 percent renewable or clean electricity won’t be sufficient without addressing transmission lines, which often meet political opposition at the local, not federal, level.

The Green New Deal resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., does not explicitly mention transmission lines, although it does call generally for major repairs and upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure.

“It’s not getting enough attention from policymakers,” said Rob Gramlich, president of Grid Strategies LLC. “People often want to believe the myth you can get to high renewable energy without transmission networks. Unfortunately, that is not going to work.”

Transmission lines are critical to transporting electricity from places, typically rural areas, that have an abundance of wind or solar to consumers in population centers that don’t generate significant renewable electricity.

“There are major areas of the country where we have significant wind and solar resources that cannot reach market,” said Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel of Advanced Energy Economy.

Economists from the Brattle Group said in a report this month that policymakers risk overbuilding the electricity system with surplus wind and solar if they don’t appreciate the need for expanding the U.S. transmission system.

The Brattle Group projects $30 billion to $90 billion would have to be spent on transmission by 2030 to “cost-effectively” serve “the coming electrification of the American economy,” meaning more use of wind and solar for electricity, and more drivers using transportation powered by electricity. That investment would represent a 20 to 50 percent increase in average annual transmission spending compared to the past 10 years.

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But building transmission is hard. Major long-distance transmission projects require 10 or more years to be approved and developed, because of a diffuse permitting process that is subject to delay because of local opposition from people living near the planned power lines — a problem known as not-in-my-backyard-ism, or NIMBYism.

Unlike with natural gas pipelines, which have also been plagued by NIMBYism mostly because of environmental reasons, the federal government has little power to approve transmission lines, with the authorities mostly delegated to states.

And the places where power lines would need to be built don’t necessarily benefit from using or generating the power, making it harder to get their approval to build.

“We have a real challenge in this country in siting transmission,” said Dan Reicher, the assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration. “In-between states that only serve as locations of the line don’t see much benefits and see it more as a problem, and can stop it from being built.”

For example, New Hampshire last year rejected the Northern Pass transmission line project, which would import zero-emission hydroelectric power from Quebec to New England, even though leaders in Massachusetts wanted to use the hydropower to help meet the state’s clean energy goals.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates energy transmission, has been wrestling recently with the need to build and improve lines in order to facilitate renewables. It plans to begin a process this week of reviewing its policies for setting rates and incentives for the construction of transmission lines — a move the Trump administration, no fan of the Green New Deal, has encouraged.

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A top priority of mine is making sure we have policies in place to ensure the grid of the future,” FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, a Republican, told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “As we look to transmission, there are a host of things we can do.”

FERC does not have authority to directly site transmission projects, though, so there is a limit to what it can do.

Chatterjee and others say FERC’s current process is not working as intended because it does not provide extra incentive for long-distance power lines, which are riskier than smaller projects that are easier to build.

“It is unquestionably the case that these longer lines are harder to site and more difficult to get past the finish line,” said Travis Kavulla, director of energy and at the R Street Institute. “The reward for that risk should be reflected in the rates that FERC authorizes for long-haul transmission lines.”

Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a Democrat, agrees with Kavulla’s sentiment, but said policymakers should be encouraging investments in advanced transmission technologies that can make the existing system more efficient.

He said less than half the capacity of current transmission lines is being fully utilized.

Wellinghoff is also excited about the potential of a new underground transmission line planned by two European companies to transport wind and solar from the Midwest to the East Coast, an untested method that is more expensive than an above-ground line, but that could avoid backlash caused by visible power lines.

“The Green New Deal will help elevate the infrastructure discussion on how to make transmission more efficient, smarter, and more cost effective in delivering renewable resources to load centers,” Wellinghoff said. “We should do it a smart and not stupid way, and not put in the same old lines and wires.”

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