New Transmission Lines Needed To Connect Growing Renewables Projects

Wind and solar power

As more utility-scale renewables projects (primarily wind and solar) are built, there is a growing need for new transmission lines to connect these sites to the existing grid. However, this is becoming more challenging, according to a new report commissioned by Wires, an international nonprofit trade association that promotes investment in the North American transmission system.

The report looks at energy needs in specific regions of the United States and how transmission can and should play a role in addressing daily energy needs and resilience related to cybersecurity concerns and natural events such as hurricanes, fires, etc. 

“The electric industry has undergone a tremendous amount of growth and change over the past two decades, and it continues to evolve as policy and customer preferences, improving technology costs and the focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions drive shifts in energy resources and consumption patterns,” wrote ScottMadden, the consulting firm hired by Wires to write the report.

Four key developments warrant consideration given their impacts on the bulk power system and transmission in particular: the changing energy mix, deployment of distributed energy resources and energy storage, aspirations for beneficial electrification and interest in renewable and zero emission resources.

The report looks at each electric grid region of the United States and identifies the key issues of renewable integration and resilience challenges by reviewing the current transmission landscape, renewable integration issues, recent resilience concerns, what regional transmission planners have done to address them and what they think should be done to ensure reliability and resilience.

“Many of these issues are inherently regional,” the report stated. “Each location has its endowment of existing infrastructure (including power generation and transmission), load sinks, renewable resource potential and potential risks from widespread resilience events. Moreover, states have a meaningful role in siting and permitting electric facilities, mandating renewables procurement and cost recovery.”

One important takeaway from the report, according to ScottMadden, is that transmission can, and should, play a significant role in addressing the challenges raised by these factors. “As more states, utilities and other companies are mandating or committing to clean energy targets and agendas, it will not be possible to meet those goals without additional transmission to connect desired resources to load,” the report stated. 

The current transmission will need to be expanded beyond meeting existing reliability needs to withstand and recover from high-impact events where resilience is necessary.

 “This points toward the need for more transmission, and time is of the essence. In the current environment, transmission is increasingly difficult to build. With greenfield transmission projects taking ten years or longer to be put into service, decisions regarding any transmission projects required to meet renewables integration and resilience concerns must be made quickly,” the report stated.

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