Getting Renewable Energy Where It's Needed Most

power transmission lines
From wind turbines to homes: Getting renewable energy where it’s needed most
(cc) Ian Koh

A number of projects are underway across the United States to increase and extend the grid capacity, specifically to accommodate power from renewable energy sources. The result should be more power where it’s needed, more opportunities for renewable energy suppliers, and more construction and maintenance jobs.


With the goal of bringing new jobs and green power to the West, the U.S. Department of Energy on August 10th announced the start of the McNary-John Day transmission project in Washington and Oregon, which will be funded by $343 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project is expected to deliver almost 600 megawatts of clean, renewable wind energy to homes and business across the West.

“These Recovery Act funds are putting people to work today to build the infrastructure that will be vital to our economy in the future,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “By integrating renewable energy sources onto the electrical grid now, we are helping to develop a new American economy powered by clean, secure and affordable energy sources.”

The Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) 79 mile McNary-John Day line will run from the McNary Substation in Oregon, across the Columbia River into Washington, and back into Oregon where it will end at the John Day Substation. The project is expected to create between 100 and 200 construction jobs at its peak and, once energized in early 2012, the new line will provide firm transmission service for more than 575 megawatts of wind energy. Contracts for the line’s construction and conductors were awarded earlier this year, with roads and steel towers already being built for the line.

“We’re putting shovels in the ground and dollars in the pockets of local workers,” said Steve Wright, BPA Administrator. “In addition to supporting the region’s recovery efforts, BPA is answering the call of wind developers with whom we’re working closely to increase the amount of renewable energy that powers the Northwest.”

For the past two months, crews have been busy building roads and erecting steel towers for the line between McNary Dam and Paterson, Washington. Materials also were purchased within the region. Earlier this spring, BPA awarded $9.5 million to Alcan Cable, located in Roseburg, Oregon, to provide the conductor for the line.

BPA is also moving forward with environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for three additional high-voltage transmission lines to meet load growth and facilitate renewable resource development needs across the Northwest.

McNary-John Day and the additional three proposed lines would add more than 225 miles of lines to the Northwest transmission grid, improving reliability and allowing BPA to provide transmission service to about 3,360 megawatts of requests for BPA transmission, including service for 2,575 megawatts of additional green energy.


In the midwest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved transmission infrastructure investment rate incentives for a proposed 3,000-mile regional “green power superhighway” designed to deliver wind-powered renewable energy from the upper Midwest to consumers in and around Chicago, Minneapolis and other load centers.

Green Power Express LP designed the project to provide consumers the benefits associated with high voltage transmission of remotely located renewable energy, enhancing regional electric markets by increasing supply alternatives, and decreasing congestion on existing transmission facilities.

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff highlighted the importance of new transmission infrastructure to fulfilling the promise of renewable energy and noted that getting these types of projects built will require effective transmission planning that looks beyond the needs of a single utility, a single state or even a single region.

“Meeting our Nation’s energy goals will require developing extra-high voltage transmission infrastructure that is needed to bring clean, renewable energy from areas where it is produced most efficiently to areas where most of our Nation’s power is consumed,” Wellinghoff said. “The Commission is examining the adequacy of transmission planning processes and is committed to working with transmission providers and state and regional entities to provide consumers with greater access to renewable resources.”

Green Power Express estimates that its proposed 765 kV transmission network would cost between $10 billion and $12 billion, eventually span seven states and deliver up to 12,000 megawatts of wind energy and stored energy from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa to Midwestern load centers in Chicago, Minneapolis and southeastern Wisconsin.


Further south, Great Basin Transmission has initiated an agreement with Western Area Power Administration, a power marketing administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, to develop the Southwest Intertie Project, “SWIP.”

The SWIP is a 500-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line that will extend from southern Idaho through eastern Nevada to the Las Vegas area. The SWIP will help unleash the significant renewable resource potential that exists within Nevada and other parts of the Western U.S. The SWIP is in an advanced stage of development with the ability to begin construction later this year resulting in near-term and long-term jobs, significant economic benefits, and delivery of up to two gigawatts of renewable energy to the grid.

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