As America gets serious about the twin crises of oil dependency and climate change, many analysts believe that wind power — and eventually solar power — will make the largest carbon-free contributions to a new energy supply. But America’s aging electrical transmission system is renewable energy’s Achilles heel, and unless a broad policy consensus to upgrade our electrical grid is forged soon, the potential of wind and solar power will be vastly diminished.
If citizens along the proposed route feel that they are being taken for granted or treated unfairly, they will fight the project rather than shape it. Even a handful of dedicated opponents can delay a necessary transmission line upgrade for years.
As difficult as siting is, we face an even more urgent problem — fair allocation of the costs of upgrading the grid. What’s needed is what FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff has proposed to Congress: to give his agency the authority to broadly allocate the transmission costs throughout regional operating systems. We should treat new transmission as a public infrastructure, like natural gas pipelines, bridges or transit, or high-speed rail. The solution is to spread the cost — which will reach many tens of billions of dollars — equitably across all electricity consumers. Not surprisingly, Wellinghoff’s proposal is generating opposition from some utilities and their political supporters.
Dr. Stephen R. Humphrey, Director,
School of Natural Resources and Environment,
Box 116455, 103 Black Hall, University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-6455 USA
Tel. 352-392-9230, Fax 352-392-9748