The electric system is undergoing a major transformation driven by consumer preferences for low-carbon electricity, state clean energy policies, and major decreases in the cost of renewable energy production. It is also facing ever increasing challenges posed by extreme weather events. To meet these needs, we need a reliable, resilient, and affordable transmission system. But our power grid is stuck in the previous century. It is not hyperbole to suggest that unless we make it easier for cost-effective, reliable renewable energy to get onto the grid, future grid failures brought on by extreme weather are likely to lead to outcomes that no one is prepared to accept.
The good news is that we have the tools we need to develop a modern transmission grid that can usher in the clean energy future and withstand present and future extreme weather brought on by climate change. It is up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement new rules that ensure we get the modern, clean, reliable transmission grid we deserve.
In comments submitted today, a coalition of public interest organizations including the Sustainable FERC Project and NRDC argue that FERC is moving in the right direction but needs to go further. This follows comments we submitted last year (here and here) that recommended specific steps that FERC should take to improve the transmission planning process.
Transmission planning has failed to anticipate future needs, principally the need to accommodate a generational shift to renewable energy resources. Without the ability to move large amounts of clean energy from remote areas where it is produced to big cities and towns – and in some cases across different transmission regions of the country – keeping lights on and air conditioners running will become increasingly difficult.
There is no shortage of renewable energy ready to supply power that can lower consumer costs and significantly enhance grid reliability. Renewable resources make up more than 90% of interconnection requests in the mid-Atlantic, 83% in the Midwest, and 95% in the Northeast. Currently, there is almost 1 terawatt of renewable energy waiting to interconnect to the grid, which is enough electricity to power over 200 million homes annually. Getting even a fraction of this power onto the grid faster would help ensure reliability and resilience and reduce consumer costs by allowing them to access low-cost power sources.
Yet the transition to a decarbonized electric sector remains stalled by transmission planning rules that are fragmented, producing mostly local upgrades to rebuild our current grid instead of the regional and interregional grid we need. This results in inefficient transmission investment decisions and unnecessary and duplicative costs to consumers.
FERC must require that transmission projects be subject to a rigorous regional planning process and set minimum requirements that all regions must use to plan for anticipated future generation. Such reforms would help to meet growing consumer demand for clean energy resources like wind and solar, ensure that the grid is resilient against ever increasing extreme weather, and ensure that state and utility policies regarding clean energy are met.
To ensure that these regional transmission lines get built, NRDC and other public interest groups are calling on FERC to:
- Make long-term regional planning a mandatory practice for transmission providers in all regions.
- Use “scenario planning” to plan for a future that includes higher demand for electricity for things like electric vehicles, while also preparing for extreme weather.
- Require the use of specific factors in scenario planning, like state clean energy laws and policies, and require utilities to plan for transmission to meet these laws and policies.
- Plan transmission in a comprehensive manner and on a portfolio rather than project-by-project basis.
- Set a minimum set of benefits that must be assessed as part of all transmission planning.
- Require that the scenarios and data sources developed and used for this long-term planning effort be carried over for use in each region’s generation interconnection, extreme weather planning, and vulnerability assessments, as well as into interregional transmission planning.
FERC is taking steps to ensure we get the cleanest, most reliable grid possible, and not a moment too soon. Failures in transmission planning go back decades as does the inadequacy of rules based on voluntary action. It is time to get the job done.