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Has transmission's time finally come?

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Peter Key's picture
Freelance Writer, Editor, Consultant Self-employed

I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

  • Member since 2015
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  • Jul 21, 2020

In the poem "Locksley Hall," Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote: "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."

During the novel coronavirus pandemic, a lot of people's fancies appear to be lightly turning to thoughts of electrical transmission infrastructure.

On June 9, the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and consulting firm GridLab put out a report showing how the U.S. could get to a 90 percent carbon-free grid by 2035 with transmission grid upgrades that wouldn't cost a lot of money or cause a lot of siting battles. A related report issued the same day by energy and environmental policy firm Energy Innovation: Policy Technology detailed the changes needed to make such a grid possible.

On June 17, the American Council on Renewable Energy and Americans for a Clean Energy Grid launched the Macro Grid Initiative, which will undertake wide-ranging educational efforts to support expanding the transmission grid to connect areas where renewable power can be produced at low costs to population centers.

And a little less than two weeks later, the House Democrats called for a "supergrid" and made many other suggestions for revamping the nation's transmission infrastructure in their plan to combat climate change.

As Sammy Roth pointed out the following day in a great Los Angeles Times article, advocates for building transmission infrastructure say doing so will provide jobs during its construction and renewable energy for decades afterwards. And while climate change-skeptical Republicans are less than enamored with renewable power, Neil Chatterjee, a former advisor to coal-lovin' Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell who now leads the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, says they have few reservations about transmission infrastructure.

In his article, Roth looks at why transmission infrastructure hasn't been built, what has changed that could enable it to get built now, and why some environmentalists, including clean-energy proponents, are against it.

He also explains why the desert tortoise is in a tough position, whether transmission lines get built across its habitat or not.


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Dave Bryant's picture
Dave Bryant on Jul 23, 2020

A great post, Peter. Thanks. One thing not mentioned is that fact that fossil fuel and nuclear plants also consume 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water per MWh of electricity generated. For instance, a 500 MW natural gas plant will produce 4,380,000 MWh per year (500 x 8,760 hours) multiply MWh x 10,000 gallons = 43,800,000,000 gallons per year. 43.8 BILLION GALLONS of water is huge. Wind and solar use zero. 

Thomas Brumm's picture
Thomas Brumm on Jul 23, 2020

I think your numbers are way off, I worked at a dual unit nuke (2500 MW) with no cooling towers and our evaporation rate was 20000 gallons per minute.  This comes to 10.5 billion gallons of water per year.  That is if both units run at 100% for 8760 hours.  This is 1/20 of the rate you have calculated.  

I have been out of generation now for 30 years and been in system operations for the last 30.  

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 24, 2020

Great article Peter.  I think Grid Modernization is one area where we may have a somewhat bipartisan agreement.  For all those who may have missed we just published a special issue series around Grid Modernization.  There were so many great articles, we had to split this into a two-part series.  In any case, follow this link for all the articles shared as part of this issue.  I look forward to hearing others thoughts on this!  

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