On July 15, 2011, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and WIRES (Working group for Investment in Reliable and Economic electric Systems) held a briefing on how the manufacture and construction of electric transmission infrastructure can make a major contribution to reversing the nation’s stagnation in employment and economic activity. The electric transmission system is a critical and strategic asset for our nation. As policymakers focus on infrastructure development as an engine of new jobs and economic activity, this panel is a reminder that electric transmission – developed at the levels that experts project the country will need over the next two decades – is at the center of economic revitalization. This briefing focused on WIRES' recent study with the Brattle Group, Employment and Economic Benefits of Transmission Infrastructure Investment in the U.S. and Canada, and the work of other organizations which demonstrate that new transmission will result in hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next 20 years and that this impetus will be supplied largely by private capital.
- Most of our transmission lines were built largely in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, significant investment in the grid has been rare. There is great need to upgrade aging facilities and construct new lines.
- A study by the Brattle Group and WIRES found that an investment in our transmission system would create 150,000 to 200,000 full time manufacturing and construction jobs, based on an average investment of $12 billion to $16 billion a year through 2030.
- In addition to manufacturing and construction jobs, 130,000 to 250,000 jobs could be supported by renewable energy projects facilitated by the new lines.
- Investment could be in onshore or offshore grids, and most of the investment will come from private investors. For example, the Atlantic Wind Connection is a transmission project planned to connect wind farms off the east coast for which Google is a major investor.
- Transmission line work is dangerous and demanding, but those jobs are well paid and cannot be sent overseas.
- Manufacturing and installation of new transmission lines creates jobs in many different industries, including component manufacturing, steel, cement, timber, construction equipment, and digging equipment.
- Such of the nation's wind potential is located in areas far from population centers. Wind energy in states such as Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Texas cannot be fully exploited without new transmission lines.
- A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that transmission development in Wyoming would create 4,700 construction jobs and 2,500 operations jobs. Economic output would peak at around $1.4 billion in 2019.
- In Minnesota, the CapX2020 project is installing lines to service wind farms in North and South Dakota. It is the largest construction project in the state.
- Benefits of improving the grid include reduced cost of power plant construction, reduced emissions, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and increased reliability of the system. Lack of reliability in the U.S. power grid costs an average $100 billion dollars each year.
- Barriers to grid investment include lack of established regional and interregional planning processes and unresolved issues regarding cost allocation, cost recovery, permitting, and siting.
- Federal backstop authority can be helpful in siting transmissions projects that run through several states.
- The panel was hopeful that new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulations will facilitate regional planning and cost allocation.