Smart grid: Obama pushes for speedier transmission lines


If there’s one thing the Department of Energy and the Obama administration can do to push clean energy, it’s make sure the necessary transmission lines get built. Miles of transmission lines needed to connect solar and wind farms in the desert can often take years to decades to get built and are one of the biggest barriers to deployment. On Wednesday, the AP reports that the administration is starting a pilot project to speed up the approval and construction process of seven electric transmission lines across 12 states.

The lines will provide electricity to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The administration is emphasizing “modernization of the grid,” as the reason behind the projects, but also mentioned increased energy efficiency and more clean power. It seems like clean power is almost a dirty word now, post-Solyndra.

As we wrote earlier this year, the U.S. should be spending $12 billion to $16 billion a year to upgrade its major transmission power lines, and this investment could add hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the U.S., according to a study by the WIRES NEMA trade group, and developed by Brattle Group analysts (PDF). The study was created to urge Congress to do something about the massive delays in getting transmission lines built (looks like it worked), and said investing in new transmission lines could annually support 130,000 to 250,000 full-time jobs in the clean power sector.

Obama has already called for 3,000 miles of new transmission lines to be built to help double renewable energy capacity by 2012. A consortium of Eastern power grid operators said last year that transmissions to carry wind power from the Midwest to the East could cost $80 billion over the next 15 years or so.

According to the AP, the projects will include:

  • A 500 kilovolt (kV), 300-mile transmission line proposed by Idaho Power in Oregon and Idaho.
  • 1,150 miles of high-voltage lines across Wyoming and Idaho.
  • A 210-mile, 500 kV line near Salem, Ore.
  • Two 500 kV transmission lines in Arizona and New Mexico.
  • A 700-mile, 600 kV transmission line in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. The project is intended to help develop new wind projects in Wyoming.
  • A 345 kV transmission line in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • A 145-mile, 500 kV transmission line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Image courtesy of Jacashgone via Creative Commons license.



Streamlining the process will help, but what will really help the TransWest Express from Wyoming to Nevada is storage. There is enough energy storage (in the form of pumped storage hydro) proposed for Wyoming to significantly create more value out of the planned DC line and improve the odds of selling the wind that it would carry to California. This, in turn, would significantly improve the odds of the line getting built.

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