Planning for and Investing in Wires

By John Jimison of Energy Future Coalition and Bill White of David Gardiner & Associates

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

The Situation

America’s power system received a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) on its quadrennial infrastructure report card, saying the nation needs to completely rebuild its grid between now and 2050, an annual investment as high as $96 billion by 2030. Without this investment, the ASCE projects that blackouts and brownouts will cost American homes and businesses $995 billion by 2040.

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 a 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 experts, the cost is approximately the same. So America has a simple choice.

To modernize America’s power system, we will need to take advantage of both centralized and distributed resources. This transmission section of America’s Power Plan describes policies that will help us access valuable clean energy resources, while related sections on distributed energy resources and distributed generation describe policies that can help level the playing field to foster competition between these alternatives. The right balance between centralized and distributed resources will evolve over time as costs and availability evolve.

The primary barriers to building new high voltage lines and optimizing the grid aren’t so much technical or economic but rather bureaucratic. Inefficient institutions and insufficient policies are the key factors preventing the United States from accessing its rich resources of clean energy, and spreading that wealth throughout the economy.

To do this we must work on five key areas:

  1. Assess and communicate the benefits of transmission expansion.
  2. Prioritize inter-regional lines that link balancing areas.
  3. Harmonize grid operations and increase competition in electricity markets.
  4. Slash the timeline for planning, building, and siting transmission.
  5. Then, make the most of the lines once they are built.

America’s Power Plan Transmission paper provides a toolkit for state and federal decision makers to coordinate better, manage the grid more effectively, and stimulate competition to fast track the most important projects.