The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed an ambitious plan to increase wind energy’s contribution to the U.S. electricity supply. The goal is for wind energy to provide 20% of U.S. electricity needs by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy has identified transmission limitations as the greatest obstacle to realizing this goal. 300,000 MW of wind energy are needed to meet this goal, which would require the installation of nearly 12,000 miles of high voltage, 765 kV transmission lines. Although several transmission line initiatives exist, few have plans to install transmission lines at this high capacity level. However, one transmission provider, ITC Holdings Corporation, has responded by developing a plan for a network of transmission lines referred to as the “Green Power Express”. The Green Power Express will include up to 3,000 miles of high-voltage, 765 kV transmission lines that will efficiently carry up to 12,000 MW of renewable energy.

To promote additional renewable energy, the transmission grid must be built to link areas with vast wind energy potential to areas that have high demand for electric power. New power lines that would carry electricity from remote to populated areas have been termed “green power superhighways”. The Green Power Express will facilitate the movement of power through these green power superhighways from wind-abundant areas in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa to Midwest load centers such as Chicago, southeastern Wisconsin, Minneapolis, and other states that demand clean, renewable energy.

Our current system has introduced several obstacles that have previously limited the creation of new transmission. Policy obstacles severely impede the construction of green power superhighways. For example, regulators in a single state can reject an entire multi-state transmission network simply be not granting the necessary permits. Generally this would occur if the state felt that they wouldn’t receive an adequate share of the project’s benefits.

Many private companies also feel that they won’t receive benefits from investing in transmission infrastructure. Few private firms have stepped forward to invest in transmission in the first place because the existing regulatory structure gives companies little or no economic incentive.

In order to meet renewable energy goals, major investments and well-developed plans for new transmission are needed. The Green Power Express seeks to create an ideal transmission grid – one which would provide consumers with access to lower-cost electricity where they do not have to rely on a single retailer. Additionally, a new transmission infrastructure would increase competition in the power markets also lowering costs of electricity.

Several reforms in our current transmission infrastructure have been proposed to facilitate this ideal grid. Federal legislation must provide new mission statements, adequate resources, and specific timelines for action. Siting processes must be revamped to allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act as the lead agency for permitting and coordinating siting approval. Finally, facilities identified as necessary for the development of green power superhighways should be eligible for broad, regional cost allocation.

Though the upfront cost of investing in the transmission infrastructure may seem large and there are many advancements that need to be made, the long-term economic and environmental benefits of these changes will greatly outweigh their initial costs. ITC’s Green Power Express will seek to create one portion of this new, robust transmission grid, helping eliminate the existing constraints associated with our current transmission system.