The mid-continent’s electric grid is facing serious challenges. With more utilities and states aiming for ambitious clean energy goals – and with developers eager to build low-cost renewables throughout the region – come stories of thousands of megawatts of clean energy projects falling out of the development pipeline due to transmission system constraints.
It’s a challenge that got the start of an answer this week with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO)’s launch of its Long-Range Transmission Planning Initiative. This process should deliver the right results – but only with support from MISO stakeholders along the way.
Here’s what’s at stake: a much faster and more affordable carbon-free energy future with more jobs and less pollution. The problem is this: states and utilities aiming to move toward carbon-free energy either have to generate that power near where it’s needed, or else take advantage of a modern power grid that enables the delivery of lower-cost renewable energy from across a large region.
The first option of leaving each utility and state to its own devices is inefficient and more expensive, puts frontline communities near fossil plants in harm’s way, and could even leave us with less reliable power. Imagine what travel would be like without interstate highways. Unfortunately, without a change in direction, we’re going to be building more small, congested roads than larger highways.
MISO’s new plan
This is where MISO and this week’s Planning Initiative launch come in. MISO was created in part to allow states and utilities to benefit together from infrastructure upgrades – and to avoid costly redundancy.
In the roadmap laid out by MISO this week, we see the right elements for success. Like with its last long-range planning process more than a decade ago, MISO announced that its new transmission planning approach will look at a mix of local and regional generation resources for states – an affordable path since some of the most efficient and low-cost renewable facilities may be located across state lines. This will mean a combination of longer interstate transmission lines and shorter in-state lines.
MISO’s approach not only reduces costs but also enhances the geographic diversity of generators, which is good for grid resiliency and will maximize the use of clean energy resources. It’s also an appealing plan for states, which enjoy the good jobs created by in-state generation, as well as lower electric rates enabled by geographically diverse generation.
MISO’s Planning Initiative also can help to address weaknesses in the existing power grid. Our grid is increasingly congested, which means that there is not enough space on power lines to move electricity from one area to another, which prevents MISO from delivering the lowest cost power to customers. MISO has identified at least three areas with significant congestion that need relief, and its new initiative and other transmission plans can help to eliminate that congestion and allow cheaper — and cleaner — power to flow across the MISO region and subregions.
The time to act is now
What MISO launched this week is only the beginning of the road. MISO’s Board of Directors will vote on the initial conclusions from the Long-Range Transmission Planning Initiative toward the end of next year. But some of these projects require at least a decade-long permitting and construction process, which means that the right decisions must be made right now if states want to meet renewable goals by 2035. In short, a lot is riding on transmission planning in MISO between now and next fall. If there were ever a time for states to take notice – and support a cost-effective regional planning approach – that time is now.