It starts with a good plan
- Jul 24, 2023 2:11 pm GMT
I’ve frequently bemoaned two of the great impediments to transmission development in the United States: nebulous, time consuming permitting processes and NIMBYISM. Admittedly, however, I’ve overlooked the other big variable hamstringing our transmission system: unimaginative and reactionary planning. A recent article at SightLine.org gives a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the problems with transmission planning in the North West. Granted some of this won’t apply to other regions, but most of it does. Here are some key excerpts:
“But the organizations that plan Cascadia’s future wires (largely, BPA and utilities) are plodding along the same way they have for years, ticking boxes and averting their gaze from the impending new demands on the grid. Meanwhile, Cascadia is on fire, and heatwaves are shattering temperature records around the world.”
“Since 2011 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has required all utilities that own transmission wires to participate in regional planning processes. In the Northwest, NorthernGrid leads that process.”
“But NorthernGrid is ill prepared for the task at hand: ushering the Northwest’s grid into an entirely new era dominated by climate change. The association has no full-time staff, no independent leadership, and is not accountable to state regulators or policymakers.”
For evidence of these deficiencies, look no further than NorthernGrid’s only regional transmission plan to date, which spans 2021–31. The “plan” simply rubber-stamps all the regional transmission lines BPA and NorthernGrid’s utility members have proposed. It offers no new or different lines that might be imperative to meeting climate goals efficiently and cost-effectively. And it includes no interregional lines or wires proposed by non-utilities (known as merchant transmission lines). In other words, NorthernGrid’s “regional plan” copies and pastes whatever BPA and the utilities had already decided to do without examining what Cascadia needs to build to stave off an ever-worsening climate crisis.
NorthernGrid’s plan also ignores the impending surge of new clean energy resources Cascadia is counting on to decarbonize. The plan only looks as far as the next decade, rather than more prudently chalking out the next 20 years. And it relies on old data utilities developed before game-changing climate laws like Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act went into effect.”
The author goes on to explain that the Bonneville Power Administration fails to make up for NorthernGrid’s failures because, essentially, it’s an apathetic bureaucracy: “BPA is entirely reactive: if a wind or solar developer needs transmission capacity and commits to shelling out for a new line, BPA will consider the project and may include it in its transmission plans. It will also build new capacity if necessary to meet reliability standards. But it doesn’t proactively plan much of anything to help the region achieve climate targets.”
The article’s author suggests that state legislators are best suited to solving the region’s transmission problem. Specifically, she recommends setting up a new regional transmission planning authority instead of delegating the work to NorthernGrid, BPA, and the utilities.
If there is any silver lining to the many recent reports and articles about our transmission system’s sorry state, it’s that there are so many reports and articles about it. You couldn’t have said that five years ago when almost all coverage of the power industry as it related to climate change centered around renewables and storage. Still, we’re in a deep hole and if this squelching summer is any indication, we’re running out of time.
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