Renewables to slow transmission development
- Dec 27, 2021 10:12 pm GMT
The United States of America desperately needs more transmission lines. Over the past two decades, as energy needs have continued to rise, power line development has slowed to a lethargic crawl. “Since 2009, China has built more than 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission lines. The U.S. has built zero,” an Atlantic article pointed out this year. Luckily, momentum seems to be building for a significant transmission build out. Once seldom discussed, the importance of transmission is now a common theme in mainstream publications, and both Republican and Democrat legislators have been enthusiastic about transmission development.
However, one thing still stands in the way of transmission: NIMBYISM. Despite an emerging popular understanding about transmission’s importance to cutting emissions and boosting reliability, people still don’t want to see the things in their backyards when push comes to shove.
Take the case of the New England Clean Energy Connect line, for example. In November, the project, that would transport hydropower from Quebec to the Massachusetts grid, was halted by a group of 50 Maine leglistors, representing the 59% of Maine voters who voted no on a ballot initiative earlier this month. The five involved utilities spent a combined $96.3 million to sway those voters. According to the letter from the Maine lawmakers to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, they’re open to other, better positioned power lines.
Unfortunately, new wind and solar farms are only going to compound this issue. The new energy sources require massive amounts of land and are sure to annoy the same kinds of people who rally against transmission projects. Here’s how a big solar and wind build out would change our landscape according to a recent article in bloomberg:
“Achieving Biden’s goal will require aggressively building more wind and solar farms, in many cases combined with giant batteries. To fulfill his vision of an emission-free grid by 2035, the U.S. needs to increase its carbon-free capacity by at least 150%. Expanding wind and solar by 10% annually until 2030 would require a chunk of land equal to the state of South Dakota, according to Princeton University estimates and an analysis by Bloomberg News. By 2050, when Biden wants the entire economy to be carbon free, the U.S. would need up to four additional South Dakotas to develop enough clean power to run all the electric vehicles, factories and more.”
There’s already opposition sprouting up against big renewable projects for concerns over land use. Various solar projects on BLM land in California have attracted the ire of environmental groups, yes the same groups that lament the ways we’re changing the climate by burning fossil fuels.
"It's really about location. Our organization has never been against solar power. We just believe there are better locations. ...We see these old-growth trees as very important for wildlife and also as carbon sequestering. They hold a lot of carbon, and we think it's a really bad idea to put solar panels on important habitat like that." said Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch in an article for the Desert Sun.
We like solar so long as we don’t have to look at it. Sound familiar?
How does this relate to transmission development? Wind, solar and transmission all require land. Land that people are loath to give up. People have a very limited bandwidth for these eyesores, and that bandwidth now looks like it will be split three ways.
I’d love to hear what the community thinks about this. Am I right in thinking there could be a public backlash against visible new utility infrastructure that would make transmission lines even harder to put up?
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