Renewable-Specific Transmission Projects Gain Steam

It isn't intermittency or storage that really presents the biggest stumbling block for wind power scale-up. it's transmission. Huge wind farms in the middle of the plains sound great, but if there isn't a network of high-voltage lines to bring the power toward load centers -- cities -- then those farms don't get built. There is a growing move to build up these transmission networks, though, by companies and projects with specific goals of getting renewable energy on the grid as quickly as possible.

Clean Line Energy recently announced approval to conduct business as a utility in Oklahoma; this will allow the company to start work on some major transmission lines. According to a press release:

"This approval marks a major milestone in Plains & Eastern Clean Line’s efforts to connect 7,000 megawatts of clean energy generation from western Oklahoma, southwest Kansas, and the Texas Panhandle to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Arkansas, and other southeastern markets."

Clean Line has several projects, but the Plains & Eastern version will eventually deliver power to 2.1 million homes. They hope to have the entire line up and running by 2017. Further north, ITC Holdings has long been in development for the Green Power Express, a transmission network designed to move 12,000 MW of renewable power around; it has since been incorporated into a larger network of transmission plans.

Some projects like this are already up and running. In 2010 Southern California Edison completed three segments of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project to bring renewable power toward the Los Angeles area. And more generally, a report from Edison Electric Institute in 2009 outlined more than $21 billion in investments by utilities and regional transmission operators to build out renewable energy transmission networks.

These projects -- and their cousins, like the Google-backed offshore "backbone," the Atlantic Wind Connection, that is in development -- are going to be key if renewable energy buildout is to continue, and  speed up as needed.

(Image via Thomas Kohler)

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