America’s Power Plan: Siting – Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission

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Report: America’s Power Plan: Siting – Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission


The power plants, poles and wires that generate and deliver electricity to consumers and businesses are a hallmark of modern society. An efficient system requires wires to transmit and distribute electricity where it is most needed to keep the system in balance. But the grid is aging and consumers are increasingly demanding efficiency and clean energy. This paper focuses on the institutional innovations that can help modernize America’s grid—by making changes to the way we plan for, site and permit clean power generation and transmission infrastructure. Today’s siting process starts with a series of applications to each governmental agency with jurisdiction in a particular area, with different agencies often requiring different assessments of land-use. This can be a particular challenge for transmission line projects that cross many different jurisdictions. Several changes to today’s process can help accelerate smart siting. Policymakers have many options to accelerate siting for new generation and transmission needs. First, system operators must manage demand for energy, and take advantage of America’s existing grid. This paper then focuses on the reforms needed to locate, coordinate and expedite any new generation or transmission that the grid system requires. In short, policymakers should: • Optimize the existing grid infrastructure. • Fully use available planning processes. • Employ “Smart from the Start” criteria. • Improve interagency, federal-state and interstate coordination. • Work with landowners to develop new options for private lands, including innovative compensation measures. • Refine the process to support siting offshore wind developments. New approaches will require engaging stakeholders early, accelerating innovative policy and business models, coordinating among regulatory bodies, employing smart strategies to avoid the risk of environmental and cultural-resource conflicts and improving grid planning and operations to take better advantage of existing infrastructure and reduce costs of integrating more renewable energy. This paper provides detailed recommendations for how to accomplish this. Modernizing the grid and transitioning to clean power sources need not cause harm to landowners, cultural sites or wildlife. On the contrary, taking action today will provide long lasting benefits. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) finds that it’s feasible to produce 80 percent of America’s power from renewables by 2050. Yet doing so would require enormous changes in the way we plan for, site, permit, generate, transmit and consume renewable electricity. Innovation — both technological and institutional — will be the cornerstone of this effort. Beyond more efficient solar cells and bigger wind turbines, American businesses and institutions will need to find innovative solutions for locating new generation and transmission. The need to site and build a new generation of transmission infrastructure continues to increase. Current and expected investment trends suggest now is the time to act. Between 2000 and 2008, only 668 miles of interstate transmission lines were built in the United States. The past four years have seen a greater commitment to infrastructure improvement, but the nation continues to fall short. Annual investments during 2009 to 2018 are expected to reach three times the level of annual transmission additions in the previous three years. More than one quarter of transmission projects currently planned through 2019 are designed to carry power generated by new, non-hydro renewable resources. The Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) estimates that up to $6.5 billion in transmission expansion investment will be needed by 2021 in that region alone. In the West, estimates range as high as $200 billion over the next 20 years.

It will be critical to implement reform ahead of the next wave of expected projects. America needs a new paradigm, one that removes barriers to new projects and takes into account lessons learned over the past 10 years. Reform must reflect a new approach to siting — one that recognizes the effect wholesale power markets have on transmission planning, and one that meets the needs of landowners, wildlife and society as well as project sponsors and investors.

Carl Zichella and Johnathan Hladik

America's Power Plan

America's Power Plan, 2013

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Internet link for America’s Power Plan: Siting – Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission


Carl Zichella, Johnathan Hladik (America's Power Plan). 2013. America’s Power Plan: Siting – Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission. N/A: America's Power Plan.