The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on the opportunities and barriers facing renewable energy development in the United States with regard to the electric transmission infrastructure. Like any infrastructure, the transmission grid is aging and needs upgrading to meet future load requirements. While the country has very large low and no-carbon energy resources, including a broad variety of renewable energy resources (solar, geothermal, wind, biomass and water power), the existing transmission grid was not designed to tap into all of these resources. The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) recently said, "A critical barrier to continued expansion of renewable energy in the region has been the lack of transmission lines to areas with the greatest potential."

There is a significant backlog of renewable energy projects waiting to sign the interconnection agreements necessary to bring power to market. According to the Independent, thousands of wind turbines in the United States are sitting idle or failing to meet their full generating capacity because of a shortage of power lines able to transmit their electricity to the rest of the grid. A proposal for $6.4 billion of new power lines linking new wind farms with Texas' public electricity grid, whose cost will be borne mainly by consumers, is proving politically controversial. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recently said, "There are large backlogs of interconnection requests around the country.….The result is that many good projects are unreasonably delayed, harming wind development nationally and harming many states’ ability to meet renewable energy goals." Additional transmission concerns include cost allocation for new transmission, integration of intermittent resources and energy storage technologies, high upfront capital costs, integrated regional planning, the role of energy efficiency, conservation, demand response programs and distributed generation, and whether DOE transmission studies conducted under EPACT 05 are being done in a manner that takes into account the opportunities for renewable energy. Our speakers include:

Jon Wellinghoff, Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) 

* Robert Gramlich, Policy Director, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) 

Raymond Wuslich, Partner, Winston & Strawn LLP 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to complete a study of the nation’s electric transmission congestion every three years. On May 28, DOE announced that it will work with the Western Governors' Association (WGA) to identify areas in the West with substantial renewable energy resources and to expedite the development and delivery of that energy to meet regional energy needs. On September 20, 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act (S. 2076/H.R. 4059) which would provide additional financing options for building new transmission lines and interconnections to areas rich with renewable energy resources. By designating renewable energy zones, where natural clean resources could generate at least 1,000 megawatts of power, the bill would establish a framework for developing new renewable energy–dedicated transmission. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is holding a hearing on renewable energy and transmission on June 17 at 10:00 am.