What We're Thinking

The next step: modernizing the U.S. energy grid

Posted on 03/31/2016 by Sarah Bray

The United States is blessed with some of the most abundant, productive wind resources in the world. It’s one of the reasons that we produced more electricity with wind than any other country in 2015, and why we have enough wind energy to power 19 million American homes.

However, there’s more we can do.

Many of the country’s windiest spots also happen to be locations with small populations, and thus small electricity needs. To truly unlock America’s wind power potential, electricity needs to be transported from wind-rich areas to larger towns and cities. Achieving this will necessitate infrastructure improvements and electricity grid modernization.

On Friday, the Department of Energy (DOE) took a huge step in this direction when it approved Clean Line Energy’s Plains & Eastern Line transmission project, the largest clean energy infrastructure project of the 21st century.

The Plains & Eastern Line will deliver low-cost wind power from the Oklahoma panhandle region to customers throughout the Southeastern U.S. It’s expected to carry over 4,000 megawatts of clean electricity, more than four times the electricity output of the Hoover Dam.

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz explained, “Moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is in high demand is essential for building the grid of the future. Building modern transmission that delivers renewable energy to more homes and businesses will create jobs, cut carbon emissions and enhance the reliability of our grid.”

Because of this project, over $7 billion of new wind farm development will be possible. This means more jobs, more resources for rural communities in the form of land lease payments and expanded property tax revenues, and cost-effective carbon emission reductions.

Similar projects have already provided a preview of the benefits the Plains & Eastern Clean Line will bring.

A recent study by the Southwest Power Pool, which manages the grid in 14 states, found power line upgrades deployed from 2012 to 2014 resulted in benefits of $2 million per day in just the first year. Likewise, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which manages grids across 15 states, reported expected benefit-to-cost ratios of between 2.6 and 3.9 to 1 for new transmission line development projects.

Modernizing America’s electricity grid and improving its energy infrastructure goes hand in hand with continued wind power growth. It’s the best way to ensure that more people have access to clean, affordable wind power, while providing cost-saving benefits to stakeholders across the board.