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Challenges in Choosing Clean Energy Transmission Routes

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Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer, Final Draft Communications, LLC

Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with well-known companies, providing direction, research, writing, and...

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According to the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT), “Transmission is to renewable energy resources what the transcontinental railroad was to opening up the West.” Connecting different regions is crucial for moving energy that can’t be generated just anywhere.

For example, the CEERT article states, “We need to connect California’s renewable resource-rich regions — wind from Tehachapi, geothermal and wind from the Imperial Valley, concentrated solar power from the Mojave Desert, and to a lesser extent, bio-energy from the Central Valley — to the large coastal urban load centers of the state where it is needed.”

As renewable energy becomes more available and affordable, transmission is critical for ensuring everyone has access to it. Yet, the placement of new transmission equipment involves some challenges.

Environmental Impacts

Recently, residents within areas targeted for new transmission lines have raised objections based on perceived negative impacts. Critics of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project said the path of the transmission line would harm wilderness areas, diminish recreational opportunities, and block scenery. Similarly, those opposed to the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) project said it would interfere with the Hudson River ecosystem.

As has been pointed out in these and other challenges to new transmission projects, the equipment can interfere with the environment in multiple ways:

  • Change the skyline. In some areas, this impact can diminish the aesthetic appeal, decrease property values, and negatively impact tourism.
  • Interfere with wildlife. For example, at projects situated on bird migration routes, the birds may collide with equipment.
  • Damage land. Projects may cause damage to land intended to be used for agriculture.
  • Frighten residents. Though electromagnetic fields within accepted levels haven’t been found to cause health problems, some people believe they can.

Use of Existing Corridors

As with other public works projects, the high-level benefits must be considered alongside the perceived problems. One way to determine the best placement for new projects is to identify existing rights-of-way. In a recent article, environmental studies expert Chris Wood explains, “Constructing within an existing right-of-way is often chosen when a transmission line is being rebuilt or upgraded or if there is enough space within the existing corridor to construct another transmission line.” He goes on to say this approach lessens the environmental impact “because the corridor is already disturbed” and suggests that running a transmission line to parallel an existing right-of-way is the next-best option.  

To determine whether an existing corridor is appropriate for a given project, the article advises considering things like routing requirements, encroachments within a right-of-way, visual impacts of the new line, reliability concerns, age of the existing corridor, future expansion and development, and ownership of the existing corridor.

While transmission is key to delivering clean and renewable energy to the widest selection of customers, the large variety of factors that must be considered when placing transmission equipment is complex. In the coming years, developers will be forced to use right-of-way options and others to resolve the many issues involved.

What are your thoughts on the challenges involved with transmission of clean energy? Please share in the comments.

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