Got a line?

The transmission-line shortage is threatening to slow wind energy's breakneck growth and could prevent some states from meeting renewable energy mandates.

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff August 27, 2008

Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid .

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not .

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues, and country roads.

A super-system of transmission lines might be what’s needed. “We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission .

While the United States today gets barely 1% of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20% or more.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders also are contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

Texas may be the most advanced, as it recently approved a $4.93 billion wind-power project .