Grid group charts path to 100% clean electricity

Source: By Peter Behr, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2020

With less than a week to go to the presidential election, the lobbying is stepping up to shape a clean energy plan if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden defeats President Trump.

Yesterday, advocates for a macro grid of new long-distance, high-voltage power lines released estimates of grid carbon emission reductions and new jobs that would come from linking prime wind and solar energy sites with urban centers.

In the study, the group Americans for a Clean Energy Grid aligned itself with the strategy issued last June by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, calling on Congress to make the plan a blueprint for Biden. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who chaired the select committee, was lead speaker in a web briefing yesterday on the ACEG proposal.

A transmission build-out “is the linchpin to solving the climate crisis,” Castor said.

Americans for a Clean Energy Grid President Nina Plaushin said development of an overlay of high-voltage lines across the country would speed achievement of Biden’s goal of a net-zero carbon emissions grid by 2035 and unite advocates for climate policy, social justice, and new skilled manufacturing and construction jobs.

“We have to build these coalitions now,” said Plaushin, who is also a vice president of ITC Holdings Corp., an independent transmission line developer based in Novi, Mich.

The estimates of new jobs building renewable power facilities and power lines are a key to the lobbying campaign.

“Just as the Eisenhower interstate highway system unleashed U.S. manufacturing in the 20th century, a strong macro grid will deliver massive economic and public health benefits for all Americans in the 21st century,” said Rob Gramlich, executive director of ACEG.

“Removing policy roadblocks to building the macro grid would yield up to $7.8 trillion in private infrastructure investment, create over 6 million jobs, save consumers over $100 billion and cut carbon pollution from electricity more than 80%. The macro grid is a win for American workers, consumers and public health,” Gramlich said.

The report yesterday projected several scenarios for construction of new high-voltage lines for both alternating- and direct-current power aimed at 2030 and 2050 deadlines, emphasizing wind and solar generation deliveries. The lines could tie time zones together, for example, allowing strong midday solar power output in the Southwest to move east and north into cities where later afternoon has arrived and wind and solar power is ebbing.

The map from the study for a wind power build-out by 2030 shows one major line coming out of North Dakota to stream power into Minnesota and Illinois, a second moving power from Kansas into Kentucky, and a third running from Oklahoma into Arkansas and Louisiana and on into the Southeast. Another large line would circle through central New York, through Pennsylvania and into Maryland. Smaller lines would link the new lines with existing grid lines.

But another speaker yesterday provided a case study of the formidable roadblocks that have frustrated campaigns to build more long-distance transmission for more than a decade. Michael Skelly, a senior adviser at the Lazard Ltd. investment firm, was a principal in Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners LLC, which could not overcome resistance to siting its proposed direct-current lines and wound up selling off its projects.

The policy breakthroughs must come in the “three P’s,” said Michael Goggin, vice president of the Grid Strategies LLC consulting firm — “planning, paying and permitting.” One key is a new policy broadly allocating the cost of new lines across multiple states, to overcome state-versus-state disputes about who pays, he said.

Goggin says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, regulator of the interstate grid, has the authority to do that, and Congress should direct the commission to exercise it. “There is a lot to be done with existing authorities, especially with FERC,” he said.

Skelly said there are a dozen existing long-haul power line project proposals that a Biden administration could endorse and support, including commitments to purchase initial power deliveries, to reduce funding hurdles. They could serve as pilots demonstrating positive impacts on carbon reduction and job creation, he said.

“Those projects can get going in the next couple of years” with sufficient policy backing, Skelly added.