MISO Renewable Energy Transmission

New analysis: Midwest and Southern leaders are letting crucial clean energy projects slip away

November 23, 2020

As the old adage goes, you only regret the shots you didn’t take. Our newly refreshed, interactive online map shines light on the extent of current constraints in the part of the power grid controlled by MISO—the Midcontinent Independent System Operator—a wide swath of the American Midwest and South. The map tells a story of missed opportunities for job growth, economic development, and mass expansion of homegrown clean energy, because the inadequate grid is preventing solar and wind construction. As the nation struggles to recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic, folks may be surprised to hear these missed opportunities would have supported around 72,000 U.S. jobs.

If only connecting a new power plant to the grid was as simple as plugging in a new TV. Far from it. Grid operators need to assess all new projects to be certain the grid can handle the additional energy without quite literally blowing a fuse. MISO needs to ramp up investments in transmission to allow more of these clean energy projects to get connected.

No room on the grid

Here’s how it works in MISO’s case: clean energy developers must submit proposals for projects they want to build and connect to the grid through the MISO Generator Interconnection Queue. Projects that reach advanced stages in the Queue process are typically ones that developers are very keen to construct, meaning their generation has buyers and a market.

Unfortunately, project developers are quickly finding out that there isn’t enough space on the grid to handle their projects. Consequently, over a span of more than four and a half years—from January 1, 2016 to October 15, 2020—developers have had to withdraw more than 30 percent of proposed wind, solar, battery storage, and hybrid solar storage projects that had reached advanced stages in the MISO Queue. That’s about 35,000 megawatts of clean energy, which could have powered more than eight million homes.

Making clean energy goals harder to achieve

Apart from customers losing access to low-cost clean power, states with clean energy goals also are losing out. Three of the states among those with the highest number of withdrawn projects—Louisiana, Minnesota, and Michigan—even have goals to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Every megawatt of lost clean energy should concern leaders in these states.

In total, the analysis shows dropped clean energy projects spanning states including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. Take a look at the new map to learn more about the 278 projects that were lost during this period.

What does it mean that the grid doesn’t have enough space? For one, MISO charges developers nearly all of the costs of upgrading the power grid even though other developers and customers benefit from the upgrades. MISO’s approach is a lot like the first driver on a new highway being charged for the entire cost of the highway!

Another problem is that MISO isn’t planning for enough of the transmission lines needed to relieve some of the larger regional grid bottlenecks. More of these longer-distance, high-voltage lines are needed to connect power from a new solar or wind project to flow to customers across a wider, multi-state geography.

Turning our back on good jobs

Building solar arrays and transmission lines is not just about creating energy, it’s also about creating jobs. As more states seek ideas for a strong economic recovery from the pandemic, leaders in MISO states would be wise to help their residents get back to work by keeping a close eye on the projects in the MISO Queue. We need the MISO Transmission Expansion Plan for 2021 (MTEP21) to prioritize significant transmission upgrades that will connect prime solar and wind terrain with demand for this energy. These grid upgrades will unclog the MISO Queue and ensure that customers and states can benefit from a low-cost, reliable, healthy, and clean energy grid for decades to come.