More big corporations are looking to meet up to 100% renewable energy goals, but antiquated grid operator planning has delayed construction of transmission infrastructure that is putting the targets at risk.
“Transmission planning fails to account for the rapid increase in corporate and other institutional demand,” says a Wind Energy Foundation report, published this month, on the large customer demand for renewable energy. Under the 20th-century model for transmission planning, experts focus on electric reliability, not the need to transmit renewable power, according to the report.
That strategy could leave corporations without a way to meet their renewable-energy goals. Only a few major transmission lines are moving forward.
“Access to renewable energy is increasingly important to our decisions about where to expand and to site new facilities,” according to a letter from a group of corporations, including GM, General Mills, Target and Kellogg’s, to the Missouri Public Service Commission. The letter supports a proposed $2.3-billion transmission line, from Kansas to Missouri and Illinois, that would connect with PJM Interconnection, which has many corporate clients.
There is no simple solution, says Robert Mechler, Black & Veatch’s director of transmission and distribution development. “It is a highly engineered system that is somewhat delicate, and everyone has to play by the rules,” he says, referring to the transmission grid. The challenge is how to get more renewables to market while addressing reliability.
Minneapolis-based advocacy group Wind on the Wires has worked with transmission planner and grid operator MISO in 15 Midwest states to create a portfolio of projects that help to transmit wind generation out of the region.
The group started with a simple concept, says Beth Soholt, executive director. “Transmission for renewables is like a farm-to-market road,” she notes.
“Renewables are just a new crop.” The group had the support of Midwest governors who saw the economic value of building new transmission. Corporate purchasing will help to drive the next crop of transmission additions, says Soholt.
MISO’s planning does not consider fuel type when prioritizing transmission lines, but it has seen wind generation grow to 16,000 MW across its footprint, says Mark Brown, a spokesman.
Getting power out of MISO and into the PJM Interconnection, which operates the grid from Virginia to New Jersey, would be a major undertaking. Despite numerous studies, only one project proposed by Clean Line Energy Partners is being considered, a spokesman says.
The project has approvals from all states except Missouri, where Clean Line has appealed a Public Service Commission requirement, says Michael Skelly, president. The project is strongly supported by corporations, utilities, unions, local governments and citizen groups.
On another front, Clean Line’s $2-billion project, which runs from Oklahoma to the Tennessee Valley Authority, was paused in December, after TVA dropped its interconnection agreement.
“Coal has trains [and] natural gas has pipelines, but wind needs new infrastructure,” says Skelly.
Texas succeeded in breaking out of the 20th-century transmission-planning mold with 3,600 miles of transmission lines, moving wind generation from West Texas to load centers in East Texas.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s grid, developed a process that paired renewable resources with developers to determine how much transmission was needed to get it to consumers, says Jeff Billo, senior manager of transmission planning at ERCOT. He credits the Texas Legislature, which stepped in to make sure wind development was not slowed. Customers pay the $7-billion transmission development costs through a monthly fee.
Billo says, “For me, the key is to work with stakeholders—the PUC, developers, consumers, transmission utilities. It would not have been so successful without it.”