Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission

Carl Zichella of Natural Resources Defense Council and Johnathan Hladik of Center for Rural Affairs

  • View the policy recommendations from Siting paper.
  • Download the executive summary [PDF].
  • Download the full Siting paper [PDF].
  • View the version printed in Elsevier’s Electricity Journal.

The Situation

New energy technologies are moving rapidly into the mainstream, bringing big benefits to consumers, the economy, and the environment. Non-hydro renewables doubled between 2008 and 2012, and made up half of new generation investment in 2012.  Policies on the books will grow renewables to 10 percent of US demand by 2020. New research suggests that an 80 percent renewable supply by 2050 is technically viable and affordable.

As we transition to a system with more renewables, we will need to rebuild the power grid to connect them to cities where the power is needed. New wind and solar, plus new transmission lines, are all land-intensive technologies. They are visible in a way that fossil fuel plants, tucked away in industrial parks, are not.

Siting large amounts of infrastructure like this will be a challenge, but with smart reforms of policies and business practices, it is doable.

It goes without saying that we must start by maximizing energy efficiency and using the existing grid. But we must also pursue a package of reforms to reduce conflict and streamline the process of siting new projects.

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 and reduce costs of integrating more renewable energy. Developers and regulators should work with landowners to develop new options for private lands, including innovative compensation measures.

This paper provides detailed recommendations for how to accomplish this. Modernizing the grid and transitioning to clean power sources need not cause harm to landowners, cultural sites or wildlife. On the contrary, taking action today will provide long lasting benefits.

America’s Power Plan Siting paper provides a toolkit for local, state, and federal decision makers to site the new power infrastructure our nation needs.