Wind power may have the potential to drastically alter our nation’s electricity consumption and reduce harmful emissions of greenhouse gases, but it will be of little use to energy consumers if the power generated can’t travel easily from the turbine to the plug.
The Obama administration appears to have made the connection. According to Emerging Energy Research (EER), a Cambridge, Mass., advisory firm in the renewable energy sector, wind power projects might experience a significant decline in 2009, even though 2008 was another banner year. The curtailment of project and tax equity financing in the current economic climate may have an adverse effect. However, transmission line projects could help the industry continue its phenomenal growth. That’s where the federal government comes in. EER predicts that the electric transmission investments in the administration’s new stimulus plan will have a major impact on wind power development in the United States.
The organization has recently profiled nine of the largest transmission initiatives under development in the Western United States in a market brief, “Transmission Initiatives Adapt to Wind U.S. Growth.” The nine projects alone are set to unlock 57 gigawatts of new wind power, more than tripling the existing wind power capacity in the United States. As a note of caution, EER points out that most of these large-scale projects are not scheduled for completion until after 2015. On the other hand, hundreds of smaller transmission lines and grid upgrades can provide a more immediate impact on wind power development nationally.
“Investments in new transmission and other renewable policy provisions being considered in the stimulus bill can go a long way towards maintaining momentum in the industry,” said William Ambrose, EER president.
The projects analyzed by EER will open up large regions of wind resources stretching from Minnesota to Southern California. The effects will be dramatic. However, without transmission improvements, wind power growth could begin to slow down.
According to EER senior wind analyst Matthew Kaplan, “The inability of transmission build-out to keep pace with wind project development activity will increasingly constrain the growth of the U.S. wind power market in the near-term.”
To improve transmission capacity, investment alone will not get the job done. Ambrose pointed to the negative affects of red tape and emphasized that “a significant amount of initiative is required on a federal level to fast track permitting and siting of these projects.”