Investment in power infrastructure soared from 1997 to 2012 — EIA

Source: Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2014

NEW YORK — The last 15 years have seen U.S. power transmission investment jump from $2.7 billion in 1997 to $14.1 billion in 2012, reversing a three-decade-long decline.

Major investors and privately held companies have thrown cash into power infrastructure largely to improve reliability, improve connectivity to renewable sources and adjust to population shifts, according to a snapshotof the sector by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

EIA noted that a first major wave of U.S. transmission investment that began with the onset of electrification in the early 20th century ended in the late 1960s. From that point until the end of the 1990s, infrastructure investments lagged.

Since then, legislation like the 2005 energy bill has led to a reversal in the money flow due to a subsequent directive at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that developed incentives for interstate transmission. Such policies came about following an August 2003 blackout in the Northeast that cost as much as $10 billion in economic losses, EIA said.

Just as much of a contributing factor is renewable power, led by “tremendous growth” in wind generation from 4 million megawatt-hours in 1999 to 141 million MWh in 2012.

“Because the best areas for wind and solar generation are often far from load centers, new transmission infrastructure was built to accommodate these renewable electricity generators,” EIA said.

Gas, hydro displacing coal in New England

A separate report out from EIA last week noted that electric operators in New England are generating more power from natural gas as well as importing more hydropower from Quebec. These sources are displacing the use of coal and oil in the region.

EIA said recent and upcoming closures of large, centralized power stations have led ISO New England to increasingly rely on Quebec, which has vast stores of hydroelectric potential.

The information agency expects that trend to continue, noting that the 745 MW coal- and oil-fired Salem Harbor Power Station north of Boston shut down June 1. Also on the chopping block in the near future are the 605 MW Vermont Yankee nuclear plant (by the end of the year) and the 1,520 MW Brayton Point coal and gas plant.

To replace much of this power, developers are vying for the right to build new transmission lines into Canada to access Hydro-Québec power. Among these is the Northern Pass proposal, which is working its way through a federal and state regulatory process.

Click here to see the U.S. transmission report.