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Another much needed win

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Jun 14, 2022
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Scrolling through my newsfeed this morning, I was jubilated to come across news that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission had okayed 5 segments for Xcel’s Colorado Power Pathway transmission project. Here’s how the article sums up the project:

“The pathway will consist of loops of up to 650 miles of high-voltage transmission lines stretching from the Fort St. Vrain gas-fueled plant near Platteville and to the southeastern plains. Four new and four expanded substations are planned.

The PUC gave conditional approval to a 90-mile extension in southeast Colorado, pending more information that is expected early next year.”

When it rains, it tends to pour. At least that’s how it seems right now when it comes to America’s transmission system. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced that they’d given PacifiCorp permission to continue its Energy Gateway South Transmission project. The 416-mile power line is planned to run through Wyoming, Colorado, and into Utah. The Gateway South line is part of the utility’s broader plan to install 2,000 miles of transmission lines across the West. 

Why are these developments blog-worthy? Because, as most of you probably know, transmission development moves at a snail's pace in this country. Just consider this fact reported in an Atlantic article last year: “Since 2009, China has built more than 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission lines. The U.S. has built zero.” 

The reasons for our transmission stagnation are complicated, but a big part of the blame lies with America’s special community input mechanisms. Although well-intentioned, they too often allow small minorities of loud complainers bring down projects that would provide net benefit to society. 

This problem was explained in a very good Atlantic article earlier this year: 

“The community-input process is disastrous for two broad reasons. First, community input is not representative of the local population. Second, the perception of who counts as part of an affected local community tends to include everyone who feels the negative costs of development but only a fragment of the beneficiaries.

Not everybody is a complainer, but pretty much everyone who shows up to community meetings is. Katherine Einstein, David Glick, and Maxwell Palmer, Boston University political scientists and co-authors of Neighborhood Defenders, examined zoning and planning meetings across Massachusetts. They found that a measly 14.6 percent of people who showed up to these events were in favor of the relevant projects. Meeting participants were also 25 percentage points more likely to be homeowners and were significantly older, maler, and whiter than their communities.”

We see these pernicious community input mechanisms sideline important transmission projects far too frequently.

The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) has been perhaps the most high profile of embattled transmission projects. For those who don’t know, NECEC is a transmission line  that would transport hydropower from Quebec to the Massachusetts grid. The NECEC would have a big impact on Massachusetts’ energy portfolio. The transmission project promised to transport 9.45 million MWh of electricity from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts every year. That would account for around 8% of the electricity used in all of New England, powering close to 1.2 million homes.

However the project has been brought to a standstill and risks never being completed. Opponents, a mix concerned residents, environmental groups, Native American tribes, and rival utilities, successfully got Maine voters to pass a measure that halted the project last November. On May 10th, the referendum’s legality will be decided on by the state’s supreme court. 

If the United States is to quit fossil fuels by 2050 and also boost power dependability during a time of increasingly extreme weather, the transmission system must be radically improved. The Colorado Power Pathway and the Energy Gateway South Transmission projects are a good start, but there’s a lot more work to be done.


 

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Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
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