The column I posted yesterday said:
- Changes in climate and your power system are on a collision course.
- More than 40 percent of Americans live in counties hit by climate disasters in 2021 … more than 80 percent of Americans experienced a heatwave.
- Match that fact to this: 435,000 miles of the U.S. power lines are vulnerable to physical climate hazards. (Source)
- So much for climate issues being just hype.
Now I will add the kicker – “But wait, there’s more!” A number of places exemplify the need for transmission improvements, right? Well, yeah…
GEORGIA: The main utility in Georgia went from 75% reliance on coal to 15%. That is a big change, with more renewable changes to come. “The upcoming moves away from coal may set off a domino effect. Leaders have to figure out what replacement generation might be needed, whether big transmission line changes are required and how the shifts might affect consumers’ monthly electric bills.” That from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
WISCONSIN: From Eau Claire’s newspaper – American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative [Wisconsin], the $492 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project’s co-owners, are beginning work on the eastern segment of the 345-kilovolt power line in Dane County. The line would stretch from there for 102 miles to Dubuque County in Iowa. The project’s owners say it will help connect renewable energy to the regional power grid, support carbon reduction goals and relieve congestion on the system.
LOUISIANA: (After a hurricane) The entire New Orleans area south of Lake Pontchartrain is expected to be without power for weeks because all eight … transmission lines delivering electricity from the outside world failed simultaneously. Hurricane Ida’s intense winds turned one of the main transmission towers into a heap of twisted and rusted metal … [The utility] says it’s trying to assess and investigate what it acknowledged was a “catastrophic transmission failure” and scrambling to figure out how to restore power. … Ida was certainly overwhelming, but the fact that all eight sources of outside power were lost at once raises concerns…” (Source)
And a story that has a lot of places that need attention: The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed:
- Texas suffers from acute congestion around Odessa, in the west where the renewable generators are. Overall, ERCOT says congestion costs the state about $1 billion a year.
- New York state has limited transmission lines leading from upstate on down. But congested lines don’t have to be long to be an obstacle: One of the most problematic links in the Mid-Atlantic region is a transmission line from the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania to a substation in nearby Baltimore County, Md.
In northern Vermont, officials have put a moratorium on new solar and wind projects, because the transmission lines can’t carry any more electricity.
- And when a transmission line that crosses the Mississippi was upgraded in 2019, the effect was to move the congestion from Iowa to Illinois. A consequence of congestion is that wind and solar equipment is sometimes unable to operate because there is no room on the lines to carry their electricity. (This is called “curtailment” in energy lingo, and it also occurs when demand falters.)
- In New York state last year, 62 gigawatt-hours of wind power was curtailed… (because of the lines to transport power).
Bottom line: A larger problem is that wind, solar and other projects can wait for years before they get the green light to connect to transmission lines. Developers have to demonstrate, among other things, that the cost to upgrade those lines to carry their output is justifiable. A new study of five regions by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that fewer than a quarter of all proposed projects actually make it to commercial operation because of transmission hurdles. The rest are withdrawn. (Source)
The Atlantic magazine (image right) ran an opinion column that summarizes the issue well: “Transmission is a politically tough issue. Its costs are high and targeted, falling mainly on utilities and power plants. Its benefits are immense but diffuse, helping Americans nationwide enjoy cleaner air, a calmer climate, and lower electricity bills.”