Reliability Report Warns of Transmission Needs with Wind Power Booming

November 19, 2008

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned in late October that a predicted 7.5-fold increase in wind power by 2017 will require the addition of significant transmission lines to maintain grid reliability. NERC is the official electric reliability organization for the United States, and its latest 10-year outlook report, the 2008 Long-Term Reliability Assessment, notes that transmission lines must be sited, permitted, and built faster in the future to maintain the reliability of the U.S. power grid. The report projects that the miles of transmission lines will grow by 9.5% over the next 10 years, and it notes that it will be vital to build the major transmission lines currently planned and to build them on schedule. On the plus side, however, the assessment projects that nearly 34,000 megawatts (MW) of demand reduction and 11,000 MW of energy efficiency will be in place by 2013, cutting power demand by 3.3% and offsetting nearly 80% of the growth in peak power demand. See the NERC press release and report (PDF 3.0 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

Examples of proposed transmission system upgrades can be found throughout the country, and many of them are intended to at least partially address renewable energy supplies. In the Mid-Atlantic region, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved rate incentives for a 230-mile, 500-kilovolt line that will run from Virginia to New Jersey, providing access to more than 1,300 MW of wind power by 2013. FERC has also approved rate incentives for a massive transmission project in the West. PacifiCorp's $6 billion Energy Gateway Transmission Expansion Project involves eight segments covering portions of Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, delivering up to 3,000 MW of wind power to cities in the region. The segments are expected to go online between 2010 and 2014. See the FERC press releases on the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway project and the Energy Gateway, as well as PacifiCorp's Energy Gateway Web page.

Smaller transmission projects are planned or underway throughout the West. In Montana, for instance, NorthWestern Energy and three other utilities are considering an upgrade to the 500-kilovolt Colstrip Transmission System. Originally built to carry power from coal-fired power plants, the system will be upgraded to deliver wind power from Montana to Oregon and Washington. In Colorado, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is teaming up with Xcel Energy to pursue transmission lines that will carry renewable energy from southern Colorado to the cities along the Front Range. And Oklahoma City will gain more access to wind power as part of Oklahoma Gas & Electric's renewable energy program, which was approved in September. The program includes a 115-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line running northwest of the city to Woodward. See the press releases from NorthWestern Energy, Tri-State, and Oklahoma Gas & Electric.