The Tools To Power Our Recovery

on November 10, 2011 at 6:00 AM

There are lots of reasons to love renewable energy. It’s homegrown and domestically produced. It provides long term stable pricing and is not subject to fluctuating fuel costs. It generates economic development for America’s heartland. It is constant and will never run out. And it’s clean. In order for America to harness the most amount of power from the wind and the sun, a stronger electricity grid is fundamental.

From the winds of the Great Plains to the desert sun of the Southwest, America has vast, untapped potential to generate low-cost renewable power. The Great Plains states – from North Dakota to Texas – possess the strongest wind resource of all developed countries. We have the potential to generate as much electricity annually from domestic renewable resources as the U.S. consumes as a whole – several times over. There is no lack of generation potential. The trick is getting the clean power to market.

We must expand and upgrade our high voltage transmission system so that domestic renewable energy resources stranded in remote areas can reach consumers and businesses. We have abundant, low-cost power just waiting to energize America. So what are we waiting for?

The current state of transmission planning includes a patchwork of local and state regulations that impede quick progress for building transmission projects. Regulators both in the states and in Washington have the chance to help speed economic growth and break open clean energy markets.

Our nation’s thirst for electricity demands a diverse energy mix that relies more heavily on clean fuel sources. Demand for energy is projected to grow by 25 percent by 2030. Wind power can be a part of the solution – it could produce 37 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. That is one reason why wind power accounted for 40 percent of all new energy chosen by electric utilities in 2008 and 2009.

Tapping this resource will have positive ripple effects throughout the economy. American businesses are highly sensitive to the price of electricity. Companies need cheaper inputs to compete more effectively in the global marketplace. Here again, clean energy is part of the solution: wind energy is now one of the most cost-effective sources of new electricity generation. This domestic resource could also bolster the economy through a supply chain of more than 2,500 companies.

High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission can be part of an effective solution. Unlike an alternating current transmission line, the voltage and current on a DC transmission line are not time varying, meaning they do not change direction as energy is transmitted. DC Electricity is the steady movement of electrons from an area of negative (-) charge to an area of positive (+) charge and therefore has a frequency of 0 Hz. The first commercial electric power system built by Thomas Edison in the late nineteenth century carried DC electricity, but given some early advantages, AC power eventually became the primary power system in the United States. Some of these advantages are no longer applicable (e.g., technology has advanced to allow better conversion from AC to DC), and DC transmission is the preferred solution for moving large amounts of renewable power over long distances. HVDC also uses a narrower right of way than alternating current lines to move equivalent amounts of power. Over the last 40 years, HVDC projects have shown significant electrical, economic, and environmental advantages when transporting power.

One of Clean Line’s projects, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, is an example of how the right technology can be used to tap our immense wind potential and the challenges that are standing in the way. The project will trigger approximately $14 billion of new clean energy investments and create thousands of new jobs to construct and operate the line and wind farms.

The line will deliver 7,000 megawatts of wind power from western Oklahoma, southwest Kansas and the Texas Panhandle to the Tennessee Valley Authority, Arkansas and other southeastern markets. Last week, Oklahoma showed great leadership when the Oklahoma Corporation Commission approved Clean Line’s application to conduct business as a public utility in the state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s leadership took this project one giant step closer to powering over 2 million homes with affordable, domestic wind power. Support is also growing in Memphis and throughout the Southeast for high voltage direct current (HVDC) projects to deliver cost-effective clean energy. The Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) Division Board of Commissioners passed unanimously a resolution in support of the development of HVDC transmission to transport clean energy to western Tennessee. The Board noted in the resolution that it will work cooperatively with the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring additional low-cost, clean energy to benefit MLGW’s customers.

While Oklahoma has cleared the way for this important project, Arkansas regulators have yet to indicate their support, slowing a complicated, multi-jurisdictional process.

At the federal level, under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Department of Energy has the power to facilitate project development – and give a boost to these local economies by unlocking private dollars for transmission lines.

The best part, and the most important reminder for folks in Washington, is that private investors are ready to make these investments. Clean Line would pay for environmental analyses and other development activities related to the project, while the Southwest Power Administration, the regional power marketing administration, would have federal authority to site the line. We can work together, as a private entity in partnership with the government, to begin rebuilding our nation’s electricity infrastructure.

Clean Line is ready to invest in America’s clean energy future. We are building the transmission that will tap domestic clean energy and deliver low-cost electricity to families and businesses. Washington has the power to build prosperity with us. By using all of the tools at their disposal, regulators can fuel our economy now and for the long-term.

Michael Skelly is President of Clean Line Energy Partners.