Group of high voltage power line towers at sunset

21 states join to modernize nation’s aging grid

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Robert Zullo

(Source New Mexico) Twenty-one states are joining a push by the Biden administration to modernize America’s aging electric grid, which is under pressure from growing demand, a changing power generation mix that includes lots of wind and solar and severe weather.

The administration, which has set a goal of a carbon-free power sector by 2035, announced Tuesday that the states had joined what it called the “Federal-State Modern Grid Deployment Initiative,” which is intended to “help drive grid adaptation quickly and cost-effectively to meet the challenges and opportunities that the power sector faces.”

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In exchange for federal technical and financial assistance opportunities, participating states will “prioritize efforts that support the adoption of modern grid solutions to expand grid capacity and build modern grid capabilities on both new and existing transmission and distribution lines.”

That means in part focusing on ways to get more out of existing transmission lines, since building new ones can take a decade or more in some cases.

“There are technologies we can use to optimize the current infrastructure we have,” said Verna Mandez, director of transmission at Advanced Energy United, a clean energy trade group.

Those include reconductoring existing lines to handle more juice as well as so-called grid-enhancing technologies, a suite of tools that include sensors, power-flow controls, software and hardware that can better deliver real-time weather data, among other technologies.

In many cases, those technologies have been adopted in other countries but uptake has lagged here, in part because utilities aren’t incentivized to adopt them and generally don’t face consequences as a result of grid congestion, which costs electric customers billions of dollars each year.

“Most transmission providers get more money when they build transmission projects,” Mandez said.

The White House said in a news release that adopting newer technologies “means that renewables and other clean sources of power can be integrated sooner and more cost-effectively than waiting for new transmission construction, which will address load growth challenges more rapidly, create good-paying jobs and lower Americans’ utility bills.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also in several orders prodded utilities and grid operators to consider more use of grid-enhancing technologies.

And some states are taking action on their own. Virginia, which did not join the initiative announced Tuesday, passedlegislation signed by GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin that requires utilities to consider grid-enhancing technologies in their planning. Last year, Montana passed legislation aimed at increasing use of advanced reconductoring. Minnesota’s legislature also voted this month to add grid-enhancing technologies to the state’s transmission planning process and require some utilities to evaluate the tools for highly congested lines.

‘More tools than ever’

To get a more reliable and cleaner electric grid, as well as accommodate electric demand that’s growing for the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. needs lots of new transmission capacity, experts agree.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy found that almost all regions of the country would benefit from more transmission lines and a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study estimated that getting to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 could require anywhere from 1,400 to 10,100 miles of new high capacity transmission lines per year starting in 2026.

That’s why the Biden administration has been pushing hard to remove roadblocks to new transmission lines, which can take a decade or more to develop in some cases, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission published a landmark new rule on regional transmission planning and cost allocation. Last month the administration also announced a public-private partnership to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines over the next five years and the Department of Energy has identified 10 potential “national interest” electric transmission corridors, a designation that would help expedite the projects and give developers access to federal financing.

“The power sector, which is responsible for a quarter of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, now has more tools than ever – including unprecedented financial support, efficient permitting, and long-term regulatory certainty – to reduce pollution and upgrade the grid to support more factories, electric vehicles and other growing sources of electricity demand,” the White House said.

The states joining the effort are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Shaun Griswold for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.