Grain Belt showcases problems facing transmission
- Apr 15, 2022 2:43 pm GMT
The United States desperately needs new power lines. To get an idea of our transmission development stagnation, consider this fact pointed out 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.”
Our transmission standstill has a number of consequences. First of all, it raises consumer prices. As this post at CanaryMedia makes clear, bad transmission hasn’t raised utility bills despite generation being cheaper than ever. Second, for basically the same reasons an underdeveloped transmission system raises prices, it slows the country’s transition to green energy. All the wind and solar power in the world is no good if it can’t be delivered to the metropolitan areas that need it most.
Cumbersome regulations and NIMBYISM are mostly to blame for the nation’s stagnant transmission system. A 2018 report by the nonprofit Americans for a Clean Energy Grid identified 22 shovel-ready projects that had been in existence for a decade or more. To get such projects off the ground, the report’s authors suggested streamlining project siting and permitting, passing a tax credit for transmission projects, and direct investment by the federal government.
Despite recent noise from the Biden administration about speeding up the sitting process, the same problems are still knocking off and slowing down transition projects.
The most recent and notable example is that of the Grain Belt Express. The transmission line, which would span nearly 800 miles across four midwest states, from Kansas to Indiana, connecting into the PJM Interconnection LLC grid, is at risk of being thwarted by House Bill 2005. The bill, brainchild of big ag groups across the region, would give any county in the line’s path the right to block construction.
The project represents a special economic opportunity for the region’s rural communities which have struggled in recent times. The cheap wind power would provide significant savings to the small municipalities. What’s more, emissions would be brought down as well.
Here’s a quote that sums up the project’s importance from an article over at E&E: ‘“The savings from this project would be very important for our community,” said Jeff Bergstrom, general manager for municipal utilities in Marshall, a city of 13,000 in the north-central part of the state. “Growth has been tough. We’ve lost load, we’re losing jobs. Cheap renewable energy is key to not only maintaining the businesses we have but to give us some type of hope for growth.”’
The same article includes quotes from advocates of bill 2005: ‘“Grain Belt is currently working towards condemning our land,” Henke said in written testimony. “They have told us they will not negotiate with us and the price they tell us is what we get. This line will take out our shade trees in our pastures and cut through several fences. They are not willing to move the line at all to avoid some of these things that will greatly impact our farm.”’
I don’t want to completely disregard people like Henke’s misgivings, but no decision comes without a cost. At some point, we’re going to have to accept some of the costs associated with big transmission projects to reap the important benefits: Cheaper, cleaner electricity.
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