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After Texas, a New Spotlight on Long-Distance Transmission in MISO

March 5, 2021

Last month, a winter storm caused millions to lose power in Texas; tragically, some lost their lives. The ensuing nationwide outrage has left people asking what needs to change to ensure this doesn’t happen again. At the same time, as the effects of climate change become increasingly and more painfully obvious, many are asking what infrastructure do we need to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

Remarkably, these two questions have a common answer. It’s time to talk about the electric grid.

Specifically, one critical piece of the energy network is the transmission system that transports energy over long distances and the organizations that ensure the reliable delivery of that electricity. These organizations should always enable power to move from where it’s easily and cheaply generated to the places that need it most — whether that means importing electricity to Texas when a storm makes it difficult or impossible to generate it locally or sending renewable energy from the places where it happens to be windy or sunny to the location with the greatest demand.

While the breakdown in Texas was particularly tragic in its consequences, February’s problems weren’t limited to the Lone Star State. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which is the organization tasked with ensuring reliable transmission for parts of 15 states and Manitoba, also experienced rolling blackouts in its southern region. But MISO handled the strain far better than the Electric Reliability Council Of Texas (ERCOT), in part because MISO is part of a larger, more connected grid, stretching from Montana to Detroit to New Orleans.

Although MISO fared better, it still faces critical challenges. For example, during the February storm, there was inadequate transmission capacity for carrying energy from  the North into MISO’s southern states. This problem contributed to blackouts and price spikes across the South.

But that’s not all: the grid limits the amount of cheap, clean energy that can get built in the MISO territory, because the grid cannot accommodate it. And as more wind and solar comes online, this problem will only get worse. Already, at least 278 clean energy projects have been withdrawn from the MISO queue since 2016 — meaning they were once in line to be built and have since been scrapped. That’s more than 70,000 jobs that would have been created, but weren’t.  While projects are pulled for a range of reasons, one clear contributor is the lack of grid capacity across large swaths of the MISO region.

In other words, the historic lack of regional grid planning and upgrades at MISO is holding back the development of clean energy and economic activity — and impairing reliability and resiliency in the face of extreme weather events. Please check out the video above and join our efforts to urge MISO to act now and build the grid for a safe, reliable, resilient and clean energy future.