The technology for reaching the goal of energy independence is available today. The only thing lacking is a strong national energy policy and a modern electric transmission grid.
The U.S. operates about 164,000 miles of highvoltage electric transmission lines. These are divided into five grids. Despite its vital role, the transmission grid has been neglected and allowed to become outdated over the past three decades. While electricity demand increased by about 25% since 1990, investment in new facilities has decreased about 30%. While investments are still being made, the growth of the transmission system hasn’t kept up with demand.
Today, 70% of the nation’s transmission lines and large power transformers are at least 30 years old. Experts agree that America’s transmission grid is in need of investment. For instance:
• The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s energy infrastructure a D in the organization’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.
• According to the U.S. DOE, transmission and distribution losses (never sold) grew from about 5% in 1970 to 9.5% in 2001, primarily due to heavier use and more frequent congestion.
• The North American Electric Reliability Corporation has documented that the present transmission system will require “significant transmission additions and reinforcements” to accommodate the widespread integration of renewable resources.
Congested transmission lines and an outdated infrastructure have compromised efficiency and led to brownouts and blackouts. According to the DOE, major power outages and power quality disturbances cost our economy between $25 billion and $180 billion annually.
New transmission has been a private-equity effort so far. The FERC, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, governs the growth of wind farms and the grid but provides little guidance as to how the grid should grow despite all the talk of a smart grid. Still, wind farm owners are working to build transmission lines to load areas. For example, one recent line will extent from wind farms in East Texas to North Mississippi. Such projects create new jobs, generate investment and economic development.
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