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'The Value of Transmission'

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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West Virginia is encouraging remote-working, outdoor enthusiast to move to the state by offering a $12,000 cash incentive and free passes to numerous activities.  WV should take note of neighboring states improving their infrastructure to support residents working from home.  The Grain Belt Express is prepping well for the future by including plans to connect 1 million Missourians with high-speed internet.  Appalachian Power also plans to upgrade 15 miles of transmission lines in Virginia to prevent outages caused by deteriorating wooden poles.  “We expect these upgrades to strengthen the electric system and reduce the likelihood of power outages,” said George Porter, Appalachian Power's spokesperson. Exact figures for the project have not been released yet but a similar project in Lynchburg, VA that upgraded a 6-mile route, 40% as long as the Henry County upgrade, cost more than $20 million. Although costly, transmission upgrades are vital.

“The value of transmission becomes really apparent when you don’t have it.”  Those are the sentiments of Jay Caspary, a transmission expert who worked at the Southwest Power Pool for nearly 20 years. The Grain Belt Express is a $2 billion project to install an overhead transmission line that would run from Dodge City to Indiana. The route would connect three power markets: the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, (MISO); the PJM Interconnection; and the Southwest Power Pool.  The transmission line will be capable of moving electricity in both directions, a feature that would have been helpful earlier this year when the electric demand in the MidWest went beyond the available supply.  In support of the Grain Belt Express project, Caspary went on to say, “Lines like Grain Belt Express could have been the savior.  We need to have the conversation about transmission.  We need big transmission, not just for moving renewables to markets but also for helping with resiliency in events like this. And I think they’re going to happen more often.” The project is on track for 2025 and aims to connect wind energy from Kansas to the energy demand in the East.  Opponents in Missouri voiced concerns about the massive project.  In February, the House of Representatives approved HB 527, which would ban the use of eminent domain for above-ground utility projects.  Landowners are reluctant, citing concerns that only 6% of the transmitted power would be used in Missouri.  Invenergy is prepared to compensate landowners an average of $150,000 for land easements and structures on their property.  

Proposed legislation may also lend a hand to transmission upgrades, with a proposal that would provide 30% investment tax credits for certain projects.  Under the Electric Power Infrastructure Improvement Act qualifying electric power transmission line property including any overhead, submarine, or underground transmission that is capable of transmitting electricity at a high-voltage would qualify. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M) commented, “We have made significant progress in the last decade in clean energy generation. However, we are simply not doing enough to incentivize investments for the required transmission capacity. Tax incentives have proven to be a major signal to investors to put their capital behind wind and solar. We should encourage the same type of growth for the infrastructure that will deliver the power from these and other clean energy resources to market.”

How will a ban on eminent domain for above-ground utility projects slow progress in transmission? While some obstacles have been removed, what further challenges should developers and utilities expect?

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