It is widely recognized that a major upgrade to the nation’s transmission infrastructure is a cornerstone to the new energy movement. Aging and inadequate lines are not up to the task of delivering enough power to meet rising demand or to bring new power generated from renewable sources onto the grid.

Energy planners in New England understand the point. In October, the international utility National Grid announced that it is starting construction on a new transmission line in Rhode Island. At a cost of $250 million, the 345-kilovolt line will run 21.4 miles from the West Farnum substation in North Smithfield to the Kent County substation in Warwick. Along the way, it will run through portions of North Smithfield, Smithfield, Johnston, Cranston, West Warwick and Warwick.

Known as the Rhode Island Reliability Project, it will also include relocating and reconductoring 20 miles each of two 114-kilovolt transmission lines in an existing right-of-way and some system upgrades to several substations.

But improvements will not be limited to Rhode Island. The Reliability Project is actually part of a much larger effort, the New England East-West Solution (NEEW), affecting several neighboring states. Launched by a collaborative that includes the National Grid, Northeast Utilities and ISO-New England, NEEW consists of four transmission line projects, each of them 345-kilovolt lines to be installed in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. NEEW is expected to improve transmission in those New England states.

The NEEW should address several transmission issues identified for the area, including limitations to east-west movement of electricity on the New England power grid; weaknesses in transmission around Springfield, Mass., a major interstate transmission hub; limitations to moving electricity across Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Rhode Island’s dependence on single transmission lines or autotransformers for reliability; and limitations to the power that can flow from east to west within Connecticut.

Collectively, all four projects are expected to address these issues and provide more reliable interconnections across the three states.
The majority of the Rhode Island Reliability Project construction should be completed by spring 2013.