A national interstate system for distributing power may prove an expensive boondoggle.
Energy experts generally agree that the electrical grid in the United States needs to be upgraded if the country is to increase its use of renewable-energy sources like wind power and significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But plans to string new high-voltage lines to bring wind power from the midsection of the country to the coasts, where most of the demand is, could be expensive and unnecessary, and a distraction from more urgent needs, some experts say.
A new national grid, which has been likened to the Interstate Highway System constructed in the 1950s, has been proposed by groups such as the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, and AEP, a large utility; elements of the plans have been included in recent federal legislation. According to this vision, new high-voltage transmission lines costing billions of dollars would be built across the country, augmenting the existing patchwork of transmission lines much as the Interstate Highway System laid down high-speed roadways over an existing network of highways. But such a plan is "only a dream," says Paul Joskow, president of the Sloan Foundation and a professor of economics at MIT. "It's expensive. It's politically contentious. In the end, I think you're better off spending the money on other things."
What's needed instead are improved local and regional electricity transmission, the development of an efficient and adaptable smart grid, and the demonstration of technology such as carbon capture and sequestration, which could prove a cheaper way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than transmitting power from North Dakota to New York City....MORE
And from the New York Times:
While most lawmakers accept that more renewable energy is needed on the nation’s grid, the debate over the giant climate-change and energy bill now before Congress is exposing a fundamental rift. For many players, the energy not only has to be clean and free of carbon-dioxide emissions, it also has to be generated nearby.
The division has set off a fight between Eastern and Midwestern politicians and grid officials over parts of the bill dealing with transmission lines and solar and wind energy. Many officials, including President Obama, say that the grid is antiquated and that thousands of miles of new power lines are needed to allow construction of wind farms and solar fields in the most promising spots. Many of the best wind sites are in the Midwest, far from the electric load in populous East Coast cities.
An influential coalition of East Coast governors and power companies fears that building wind and solar sites in the Midwest would cause their region to miss out on jobs and other economic benefits. The coalition is therefore trying to block a mandate for transcontinental lines.
They want the wind farms built in rural New England and offshore from Massachusetts to Delaware, and for now it appears that they may get a chance to do that. They are campaigning to keep a provision out of the legislation that would mandate a huge super-high-voltage grid, with the cost spread among millions of electric customers.
“While we support the development of wind resources for the United States wherever they exist,” the governors warned in a May 4 letter to House and Senate leaders, “this ratepayer-funded revenue guarantee for land-based wind and other generation resources in the Great Plains would have significant, negative consequences for our region.”
Dan W. Reicher, an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who now leads energy initiatives at Google, said the debate exposed a conundrum. “The areas with the most attractive renewable energy resources often don’t overlap with the places where the push for job creation is strongest,” Mr. Reicher said.
For example, a wind machine in North Dakota would produce more energy than the same machine in some Eastern states — but energy projects tend to get built in places where they are most wanted.
The East Coast advocates may have won a crucial first round. When the House passed its sweeping energy and climate-change bill on June 26, it included a provision that lets the federal government overrule state objections to new power lines — but only west of the Rockies. Western states would be unlikely to oppose the new power lines in any case: the region has long been accustomed to huge generation projects built at a great distance from load centers.But the bill would not give the federal government a mandate to overrule the Eastern states on transmission lines. The issue will be on the table again as the Senate takes up the bill in the next few weeks....MORE