Private and government energy experts have long agreed that major upgrades are sorely needed for our nation’s electric transmission infrastructure—-particularly for the Eastern Interconnection, a vast area composed of all the states east of the Rocky Mountains, with the exception of Texas, which is governed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The Joint Coordinated System Plan (JCSP) recently issued a first-of-its-kind study that represents the collaborative efforts of many of the regional electric transmission organizations within the Eastern Interconnection. According to the study, it will cost approxi-mately $80 billion to expand the Eastern Interconnection’s transmission infrastructure to accommodate 20 percent of its electricity coming from wind generation. And that’s only a first step in the JCSP initiative. Partners in the JCSP are Midwest ISO, Southwest Power Pool Inc., PJM Interconnection, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mid-Continent Area Power Pool (MAPP), and participants within SERC Reliability Corp. While each of these organizations has its own transmission expansion plans, they are now working to-gether under JCSP to enhance interregional cooperation.

“Although JCSP examined a small set of scenarios with limited variables, this study nonetheless gives a clear idea of the scale of commitment it will take to integrate large amounts of renewable resources into the grid,” said John Bear, president and CEO of the Midwest ISO. “This is information we believe that our leaders need to consider as they begin work under a new administration and start defining our energy future.”

Sizeable portions of the recently enacted $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be directed toward renewable energy and infrastructure improvements to the national grid.

T. Boone Pickens, the oil and natural gas billionaire, recently described our national transmission grid as “piecemeal.” It was built in a random, fragmented way by individual utilities and regional power organizations responding to requests for power and according to the needs of their service areas. In its time, that approach was intelligent and economically efficient, but today the supply-and-demand game is changing and a national strategy is being forged.

One of the country’s strongest areas for producing new wind energy is the North Central Region consisting of Iowa, Minnesota, Ne-braska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. This region is largely rural and without adequate transmission lines.

“What this plan is trying to do is be a lot more forward thinking and anticipate future needs. We are trying to build an interstate transmission superhighway system, so it’s not just about local or regional needs but putting together a national grid such as proposed by leaders in Washington and the electric utility industry,” said Emily Pennel, communications manager for Southwest Power Pool.