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The NESCOE letter and transmission in the age of renewables

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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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  • Oct 21, 2020

The New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) recently put out a vision statement pleading for some big changes to facilitate the adoption of renewables in the region. In addition to reforming the area’s wholesale market, the letter calls for a redesigned transmission planning process. The goals have been endorsed by a number of legislators across party lines throughout every New England state with the exception of New Hampshire. 

In a joint statement with governors from Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, D, criticized the current system, saying: “[it] has actively hindered our efforts to decarbonize the grid.” 

For a few years now, we’ve seen legislators from more progressive states push through ambitious carbon cutting legislation with seeming ignorance regarding the fundamental grid changes they would require. However, this vision statement from NESCOE signals a long overdue realization. It’s encouraging, and hopefully other leaders around the country will come to the same conclusion.  

All signals show that the clean energy and the related electric transportation revolutions are already underway. 

According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the country’s use of renewables grew for the fourth consecutive year in 2019. According to the same graph, clean energy accounted for 11% of the United States' total energy consumption last year. 

Despite recently rising prices due to the expiration of numerous incentives, a paper published by IHS Markit on Tuesday predicts corporate buyers of renewable energy will continue to grow, leading to 44 GW to 72 GW of new wind and solar projects in the United States over the next 10 years. The same study found that PPAs could account for 20% of all utility scale renewable power additions from now until 2030. Why adopt renewables when they’re more expensive than fossil fuels? The answer is simple: Activist investors are demanding it and it’s good P.R. in this day and age. With regards to the prices of renewables, however, it is important to note that the average cost is driven up substantially by very high prices in California. 

Meanwhile, as more of the country’s energy sources turn green, our transportation fleets are moving off fossil fuels onto batteries. 

This week, it was announced that Volvo Trucks North America will roll out 70 Class 8 VNR Electric trucks in California. The trucks will be used for regional freight distribution and drainage and the deployment was made possible by a $20 million grant from the EVA’s Targeted Shed Grant and a $1.7 grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. 

However, more important than any single announcement about new electric trucks, Honda and GE are making rapid progress on a standard blockchain that would provide the foundation for a worldwide EV charging system. 

I believe the adoption of EVs will work to accelerate the already steady adoption of renewables around the country. As the public realizes that the electric bus fleets and light rails they're being told are carbon cutters are really pulling their energy from coal and gas fired plants, they will demand leglistors fuel them with clean energy. 

More renewables will require significant investment in transmission systems. This is old news, and has been explained in numerous studies put together by utilities for years now. Take the CapX2050, for example. The study put together by 10 major upper-midwest utilities, including Xcel and Great River Energy, predicted the need for major transmission upgrades in the region:

“Currently, Minnesota gets around 20% of its electricity from wind and just over 1% from solar. But those numbers are expected to surge as utilities pursue aggressive carbon reduction goals to 2050, partly through early retirements of the grid’s historic bedrock — coal plants.”

“More money will be needed for more transmission lines, too, and not only because wind and solar farms are geographically dispersed. As coal-fired plants close, more transmission will be needed to ship excess renewable power from one point on the grid to another point that needs it.” 

If the NESCOE letter is any indication, government decision makers are finally getting the message. Let’s hope it’s not too late.


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