Decisions and investments made in the coming decade will shape the course of the power sector, economy and public health for decades to come. Will this massive investment lock in an inefficient, century-old system reliant primarily on centralized fossil fuel, or will it move us toward a cleaner, more efficient, and economic energy future?

According to independent expert analyses, the cost of these two—very different—futures is roughly the same. The barriers to building new high voltage lines and optimizing the grid aren’t so much technical or economic, but rather bureaucratic. Insufficient policies prevent the United States from accessing its rich resources of clean energy, and spreading the resulting benefits throughout the economy.

In addition to classic transmission planning, important work in the area of “non-transmission alternatives” can also play an important role in minimizing system costs by taking advantage of a whole new class of reliable, clean resources. Non-transmission alternatives include resources like energy efficiency, local generation, microgrids, demand response, and more.

America’s Power Plan’s papers on transmission and siting comprise a toolkit for state and federal decision makers to coordinate better, engage stakeholders more effectively, optimize the existing grid, take advantage of important non-transmission resources on the demand-side, and stimulate competition to fast-track the most important projects.

Learn More:

Transmission Policy: Planning for and Investing in Wires, by John Jimison – Energy Future Coalition & Bill White – David Gardiner & Associates

America’s aging grid infrastructure is in need of a substantial overhaul as new energy sources become available. This paper suggests five ways to reduce the institutional and political barriers to building new grid infrastructure: 1) assess and communicate the benefits of transmission expansion; 2) prioritize inter-regional lines that link balancing areas; 3) harmonize grid operations and increase market competition; 4) reduce timeline for planning, building, and siting transmission; and 5) optimize transmission lines once they are operational.

Siting Policy: Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission, by Carl Zichella – Natural Resources Defense Council, Johnathan Hladik – Center for Rural Affairs

This paper focuses on the reforms needed to locate, coordinate, and expedite any new generation or transmission that the grid system requires. New approaches will require engaging stakeholders early, accelerating innovative policy and business models, coordinating among regulatory bodies, employing smart strategies to avoid the risk of environmental and cultural resource conflicts, and improving grid planning and operations to take better advantage of existing infrastructure to reduce costs of integrating more renewable energy.

Siting Renewable Generation: The Northeast Perspective, by Eleanor Stein & Mike O’Boyle – America’s Power Plan

The Northeastern U.S. is simultaneously home to the most ambitious regional renewable energy goals and the most constrained lands in the U.S. This paper builds upon past work on siting policy to examine siting solutions tailored to meeting renewable energy demand in a land-constrained region. Along with creative new approaches to renewables siting, the paper examines four approaches to reduce the need for land-intensive utility-scale renewables.

Regional Transmission Organizations: Recommendations for the West, by Carl Zichella – Natural Resource Defense Council (April 2016)

Based on experience gained in the rest of the country’s organized grid regions, this Issue Brief examines the potential benefits of expanding CAISO’s footprint to include other Western balancing areas through the lens of improved economics, renewable power integration, and conventional power plant retirements.  The report also makes the case against a capacity market for a Western RTO in favor of maintaining state control over resource adequacy.

Grid Integration in the West: Bulk Electric System Reliability, Clean Energy Integration, and Economic Efficiency, by Rebecca Johnson – Hewlett Foundation (July 2015)

This report provides context on the current status of the electric grid in the Western U.S. and summarizes some of the larger initiatives underway to upgrade Bulk Electricity System (BES) planning, operations, and markets. The content is focused on activities that are or could be undertaken at a regional level to improve the reliability and economic performance of the BES while simultaneously facilitating the integration of high penetrations of clean energy resources. The document is current as of the date of release.  The intended audience for the report includes policy makers and industry stakeholders who have general to advanced knowledge of electricity systems and who are interested in the current status and potential future trajectory of the electric grid in the Western U.S.

Well‐Planned Electric Transmission Saves Customer Costs:   Improved Transmission Planning Is Key to the Transition to a Carbon‐Constrained Future, by Judy Chang & Johannes Pfeifenberger – The Brattle Group (May 2016)

This study argues for “anticipatory” transmission planning, which includes scenario-based analysis, extending planning horizons to 20-40 years.  It finds proactive planning to access top-quality wind and solar resources with higher capacity factors would yield projected net savings in total generation and transmission investment costs ranging from $30-70 billion through 2030 for compliance with Renewable Portfolio Standard and Clean Power Plan targets, and up to $50 billion in annual savings under high renewable penetration scenarios.

Transmission’s True Value, by J.P. Pfeifenberger & D. Hou – Brattle Group (Feb. 2012)

The benefits of transmission investments range from increased reliability to decreased transmission congestion and generation costs, as well as risk mitigation, renewables integration, economic development, and increased competition in power markets. This paper quantifies the benefits of transmission infrastructure investments to show they are most often cost-effective, despite regulatory hurdles. After looking at transmission benefit-cost analyses through the lens of individual transmission expansion projects, the authors conclude that while formulaically derived or easily quantified benefits often are too low to justify an investment, the sum of all identified benefits often significantly exceeds the cost of the projects.

Building Electric Transmission Lines: A Review of Recent Transmission Projects by Joseph H. Eto, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Sept. 2016)

This report examines barriers to transmission development and strategies to overcome them.  The report examines nine projects with similar conclusions: early stakeholder engagement, ensuring projects respond to state-driven goals, and early agency coordination on siting and environmental review yield greater chances of success.

Western Renewable Energy Zones – Phase 1 Report, a joint initiative of the Western Governors’ Association & U.S. Department of Energy (June 2009)

One key to getting the most out of plentiful renewable resources is connecting these often remote sites with the bulk grid. In an effort to facilitate the construction of new, utility scale renewable energy facilities and any needed transmission to deliver that energy across the Western Interconnection, the Western Governors collaborated with the U.S. Depts. Of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture, FERC, and other stakeholders to provide the analysis and tools to make this a reality. The Phase I Report identifies Western Renewable Energy Zones, evaluates transmission strategies through modeling, and identifies the breadth of renewable energy potential, including identifying resource-rich zones across the Western Interconnection.

From the Ground Up: Addressing Key Community Concerns in Clean Energy Transmission, by Lu Nelsen – Center for Rural Affairs (2013)

Siting transmission can be a contentious process. This paper identifies six common issues that surround transmission development in most siting cases: agriculture, conservation, health, eminent domain, need, and fairness. After discussing each of these complex issues, the authors suggest several solutions to help preempt and streamline costly, time-consuming siting battles. Chief among these suggestions is increasing communication between communities, landowners, and developers, and employing feedback to change regulatory policy governing the siting, routing and construction of transmission projects.

Public Policy Considerations in Transmission Planning, by Dart & Huntley – Wilderness Society, Kreitler – National Audubon Society, & Carl Zichella – Natural Resource Defense Council (Sept. 2011)

Regional planning processes traditionally do not address ecological, biological, and cultural resource impacts until the siting phase—leading to a flurry of interventions, oppositions, and lawsuits that may have been avoided. In response, this paper suggests a framework for considering public policy in regional transmission planning processes that includes much more robust accounting for the economic values derived from the landscape that benefit human and ecosystem health. Accounting for the full range of affirmative obligations, which include safeguarding reliability, reducing carbon emissions, keeping costs reasonable, facilitating clean generation technologies and avoiding unnecessary impacts on the landscape, results in a streamlined implementation process that better accomplishes these public policy goals.

More Than Smart: A Framework to Make the Distribution Grid More Open, Efficient, and Resilient – Greentech Leadership Group & California Institute of Technology (Aug. 2014)

Only a handful of states have initiated comprehensive efforts to engage in large-scale integration of DER into state-wide distribution grids. While prepared to specifically influence California policy, this paper provides a general framework of principles to guide implementation of policies that require utilities to optimize deployment of distributed energy resources. The paper provides four guiding principles: standardize data and methodologies through a comprehensive planning process, enable an open platform for DER integration, allow distribution service operators to have an expanded coordination role, and open wholesale markets to participation for DER.

Consideration of Alternatives to Transmission or Conventional Generation to Address Local Needs in the Transmission Planning Process, by California Independent System Operator (Sept. 2013)

FERC Order 1000 mandated that independent system operators (ISOs) consider non-transmission alternatives (NTAs), such as energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation, and energy storage, to displace costly transmission expansion needs. In this paper, the California ISO (CAISO) presents its methodology for including non-transmission alternatives (NTAs) to meet local area needs that otherwise would require new transmission or conventional generation infrastructure. While this paper focuses only on solutions that address local needs, it provides a useful framework for transmission utilities and ISOs to glean the potential of NTAs.

Looking Beyond Transmission, by Elizabeth Watson & Kenneth Colburn (April 2013)

The authors identify three gaps in FERC Order 1000 compliance that need fixing: lack of requirements for ISOs to independently search for and assess NTAs, vagueness about what constitutes adequate “consideration” of NTAs, and lack of a methodology for allocating and recovering costs for NTAs. While NTAs are by their nature outside the jurisdiction for ISOs to implement, NTAs would be considered more robustly under the proposed improvements.

‘Non-Transmission Alternatives’: FERC’s ‘Comparable Consideration’ Needs Correction, by Scott Hempling (May 2013)

In light of FERC Order 745 being vacated, this paper assesses whether this state of affairs conflicts with the Federal Power Act, and, if so, what corrections are necessary. The paper concludes with recommendations on how FERC can fashion this requirement. The recommendations focus on actions not only by FERC, but also by RTOs, non-RTO regional processes, other transmission providers and state regulatory commissions.