New Power Technologies Face Same Old Transmission Problems

Alternative energy has become a growth industry, with announcements for new wind, solar and geothermal projects now an almost daily event. But getting the clean electricity these facilities produce to market poses the same challenge faced by traditional power plants: gaining approval for new transmission lines.

07/24/2007


Alternative energy has become a growth industry, with announcements for new wind, solar and geothermal projects now an almost daily event. But getting the clean electricity these facilities produce to market poses the same challenge faced by traditional power plants: gaining approval for new transmission lines. Western U.S. states offer some of the greatest opportunities for renewable-energy development, and are currently facing big transmission-line battles as a result.

One of the largest renewables-related transmission controversies is San Diego Gas & Electric's proposed $1.3 billion Sunrise Powerlink project, which would cut across 150 miles of mountains, valleys and deserts, including the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. SDG&E contends the line would enable access to wind and solar resources—including a proposed 900 MW solar-collector project—allowing the utility to meet its state-mandated target of deriving 20%

However, critics contend the territory the new line would cross is too environmentally sensitive to support the installation, and that renewable-portfolio targets could be met through more local efforts. They also state the utility's renewable-energy claims are really a front, and that the project's larger aim is to provide new transmission capacity for traditionally produced electricity from the San Diego area to Northern California. The California Public Utility Commission is expected to decide the issue in January 2008.

A similar controversy is forcing a U.S. Department of Energy environmental review of a $120 million, 203-mile line that would connect Montana to Canada's Alberta grid. Wind-farm developers in the area say the 230 kV line is crucial to their projects' success—already three companies have signed transportation contracts with line developers. However farmers whose land the line would cross are objecting to the design of poles to be used in the project.

The DOE previously completed a draft environmental study along with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. In June, the DOE announced it will be completing an environmental impact statement as a result of the farmers' complaints.

New Mexico has passed legislation intended to ensure transmission-line battles don't slow renewable-energy development efforts. The measure, which took effect July 1, allows a new quasi-government authority to plan and finance transmission-line construction if at least 30 percent of the electricity to be carried on the line is from renewable sources. Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic Party presidential candidate, was a strong supporter of the law.

Attendees of the Western Governors' Association's annual meeting in June were urged to consider similar financing efforts in their own states by a leading solar-power developer. John O'Donnell, executive vice president of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Ausra, a start-up solar-collector developer, noted that capital-cost financing for transmission capacity was the major hurdle standing in the way of Western states becoming major energy exporters.





No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Combined heat and power; Assessing replacement of electrical systems; Energy codes and lighting; Salary Survey; Fan efficiency
Commissioning lighting control systems; 2016 Commissioning Giants; Design high-efficiency hot water systems for hospitals; Evaluating condensation and condensate
Solving HVAC challenges; Thermal comfort criteria; Liquid-immersion cooling; Specifying VRF systems; 2016 Product of the Year winners
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing Arc Flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Putting COPS into context; Designing medium-voltage electrical systems; Planning and designing resilient, efficient data centers; The nine steps of designing generator fuel systems
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
click me