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Summary:

Siting is a thorny issue for any major infrastructure project — after all, who wants a freeway in their backyard? For the pending transmission grid buildout, the challenge could be even greater because of a key difference between the Interstate Highway System that President Eisenhower championed […]

Siting is a thorny issue for any major infrastructure project — after all, who wants a freeway in their backyard? For the pending transmission grid buildout, the challenge could be even greater because of a key difference between the Interstate Highway System that President Eisenhower championed a half-century ago and the thousands of miles of transmission lines proposed to connect abundant renewable energy resources in rural regions with urban centers: It’s all about exits.

transmission-congestion

Highways have on- and off-ramps, and so towns along the route can see some of the benefit. High-voltage direct-current transmission lines, while efficient for long distances, aren’t designed to drop off electricity along the way — they’re basically no-exit highways, according to Lester Lave, who co-directs Carnegie Mellon’s Electricity Industry Center and testified at a Senate hearing about the renewable portfolio standard this week. (As noted on the Green Inc. blog, it’s possible to add “off ramps,” but it’s very expensive.) As a result, states may not be as willing to seize land for the project as they were for Eisenhower’s interstate, as the New York Times explains.

Spain-based energy giant Iberdrola Renewables’ Don Furman said at the Senate hearing this week (he heads up North American development, policy and regulation for Iberdrola) that laying thousands of miles of new transmission lines to connect regions with abundant wind and solar resources to energy-hungry cities involves all the challenges of constructing the interstate highway system: “NIMBY” resistance to siting, cross-border planning and permitting, and uncertain cost recovery.

Lave countered that, while the grid is undoubtedly “a piece of national infrastructure,” it differs from an interstate highway in who uses it — and therefore who should coordinate and pay for it. Here’s Lave’s thinking: If Wyoming wants to sell wind power to Southern California, let the two states or utility commissions work it out. If T. Boone Pickens wants to bring wind power to the Texas grid, let him install the transmission lines (if you’re Pickens, by the way, that means lobbying the Texas legislature to let y0u annex land). When it comes to building a no-exit transmission line, Lave said, “I don’t see what the justification would be for making that a federal facility.”

To be sure, there are ways to get interstate transmission lines muscled into being despite regional roadblocks. The Department of Energy can designate National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors. Since acquiring this authority in 2005, the department has designated two corridors — one of which covers the entire state of New Jersey. The designation is not carte blanche approval for transmission lines, but it’s the first step in a process that lets the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit projects that have been delayed (or denied) at the state level. As a last resort, it can use eminent domain — a controversial process.

midatlantic_corridor_map091707

A renewable portfolio standard could grease the wheels for the national grid, giving states without abundant renewable power resources a mandate to tap clean energy from elsewhere — and an incentive to back transmission lines.

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  1. Sounds like there’s a presumption that renewable generation will follow the same centralized facilities (industrial scale) that we evolved for the fossil fuel based legacy. Why must that be? Perhaps we’re stuck in the legacy mindset (bigger turbines are better, centralized generation yields a revenue stream and control model we’re accustomed to, etc.). How much of the grid debate (not to mention utilization bottleneck) is mitigated by a more decentralized infrastructure?

    1. Decentralized generation would be much better in many ways. Property owners would not be eminent domained. Habitats and vistas would not be cut up by transmission systems. But unfortunately, the DG model does not fit in well with the corporate capitalist economic model.

  2. “they’re basically no-exit highways”!!!
    WTF is up with that? Inverters are more expensive than towers & transmission lines? I think not.

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    [...] of the Blogs ; Site Offers More Than Slim Pickens – The Oklahoman – 2/11/09 Beneath the Push for a National Grid, Eminent Domain Battle Brews – Earth2Tech – [...]

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    [...] himself focused a fair chunk of his remarks at the signing ceremony today on the need for a “nationwide transmission superhighway“: Today, the electricity we use is carried along a grid of lines and wires that dates back to [...]

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    [...] Chair Jeff Bingaman. States that would get transmission lines but no energy (crossover states) have reason to worry about getting short shrift. Not so with Nevada — part of the reason Reid has championed the issue. He noted that his [...]

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    [...] Jump Starting the Smart Grid – Programs created under the stimulus package jump-start what Obama calls a “nationwide transmission superhighway” with more than $4 billion specifically for smart grid tech. The newly appointed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff is a firm believer in the smart grid but is already dealing with utilities griping about the cap on stimulus spending as well as the pesky issue of eminent domain. [...]

  10. tinyComb » Blog Archive » Obama’s First 100 Days……..Clean & Green. Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    [...] Jump Starting the Smart Grid – Programs created under the stimulus package jump-start what Obama calls a “nationwide transmission superhighway” with more than $4 billion specifically for smart grid tech. The newly appointed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff is a firm believer in the smart grid but is already dealing with utilities griping about the cap on stimulus spending as well as the pesky issue of eminent domain. [...]

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