Transmission critical to wind energy

Source: By Lucas Nelsen, Center for Rural Affairs • Posted: Monday, November 28, 2016

Wind energy contributed a significant portion of new generation completed in 2015, making up 41 percent of a total 14,468 megawatts built last year. Many of these new additions were located in the Midwest and Great Plains, regions of the country that boast some of the richest wind energy resources in the nation. Rural communities in these regions stand to benefit from new renewable development, as projects provide new economic activity and revenue for these areas.

Projects provide new tax revenue to rural communities and supply added income for landowners. Also, the building and operation of these facilities bring new jobs to the area.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that wind turbine technicians are the fastest growing profession in the country. The Department of Energy estimates the wind energy industry could support up to 380,000 jobs by 2030, a significant increase over the current 88,000 jobs.

However, while rural areas have significant potential to generate renewable wind energy, development has traditionally been hindered by a lack of means to transmit that power.

Without sufficient transmission, there is a limit to renewable energy development in rural places. Transmission infrastructure has been a persistent barrier to renewable energy in the Great Plains and Midwest, especially for rural areas. Electric transmission was traditionally built to service areas with sizeable populations or provide service directly to large individual generating units, leaving rural production areas without necessary transmission capacity.

Without improved electric transmission infrastructure to transport new renewable energy to market, developers are less likely to continue building renewable generation on pace with previous years. For the renewable energy industry to continue to grow, the transmission system must be updated to connect areas where projects are developed to the larger grid and to deliver renewable power to consumers. …

Identifying areas with potential for renewable development and locations where bottlenecking can occur is key to alleviating the current limitations of the electric transmission system. In an effort to address these infrastructure deficiencies, several Regional Transmission Operators have conducted planning efforts to identify where improvements and updates are needed.

In 2011, MISO — a Regional Transmission Operator consisting of over 30 transmission-owner members, and with a service territory that includes 13 midwestern states and parts of Canada — approved the first portfolio of projects identified as Multi-Value Projects (MVP). This portfolio was designed to provide value across the MISO region by meeting the need for transmission capacity for new renewable energy and addressing reliability concerns. …

Although the full story of the first MVP portfolio is not yet finished, there is already evidence the portfolio will provide significant benefits to the region by the time it goes into service. An important consideration is the benefit of coordinated planning on transmission development and the potential to bring in more stakeholders. Decentralized generating resources like wind and solar have made it even more important to carefully consider where upgrades to the transmission system will be required in the near-term.

It’s also important to consider how the system should be planned to accommodate long-term changes to the way power is generated and consumed. Capturing the full range of benefits from new renewable and transmission development will require that a regional view continues to be the focus of transmission planning. This regional view will also ensure that public policy goals like increasing the role of renewable energy in meeting demand and reducing carbon emissions are achievable for states and utilities.

Lucas Nelsen is a policy program associate at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyon, Neb.