ORIGINAL REPORTING: A solution for new transmission could be lying along rail lines and next generation highways
Transmission troubles? A solution could be lying along rail lines and next generation highways; Multiple studies show the need for interregional transmission is growing and proposals to streamline siting will help, but cost allocation remains a barrier
Herman K. Trabish, Nov. 12, 2020 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: As the Biden moves from pandemic recovery to economic recovery, building a new national transmission system will get increasing attention.
Utility-scale renewables and flexible, distributed renewables, some of the basic elements of deep decarbonization, are growing rapidly, but the transmission system needed to deliver and integrate them is not. Recent studies, including the landmark and reportedly suppressed Department of Energy Seam study, show expanded transmission is critical.
But two key barriers — where to put the new lines and how to pay for them — still slow development, according to a June 2020 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report to Congress. Allocation of the new lines' costs remains unresolved, but new approaches to siting are attracting attention.
"Siting is one of the most intractable barriers," but "largely untapped" rights-of-way (ROWs) on already developed "brownfields," such as railroads and highways, could "alleviate the problem," former FERC Chair James Hoecker wrote on behalf of the Rail Electrification Council (REC) in a July filing with FERC on transmission planning incentives. Hoecker's filing defines brownfields as "land already developed for another industrial or ground-disturbing purpose" and notes that "there are many potential kinds of available brownfields that may be suitable for co-development, railroads and highways among them."
These railways and "next generation" highways, in which transmission lines, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and broadband/5G infrastructure are co-located, could bypass objections of private landowners on transmission siting and streamline deployment.
Using existing ROWs is a feasible way to build the urgently-needed interregional transmission described in the Seam study, transmission authorities agreed. But to resolve the cost allocation barrier, stakeholders must recognize high voltage transmission's economic, reliability and resilience benefits, and its importance to deep power system decarbonization, they said. New transmission that links the now largely disconnected halves of the U.S. power system can benefit customers and the environment, according to the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Seam study.
New high voltage alternating current (HVAC) or direct current (HVDC) transmission can increase the "transfer capability" across the seam separating the Eastern and Western Interconnections. That would deliver more and better renewable generation to system operators on both sides and allow "substantial energy and operating reserve sharing," the study found. DOE officials impeded release of the study's findings because of potential impacts on fossil fuel industries, InvestigateWest reported in August. But other studies have reached the same conclusions… click here for more