That's the message from Michael J. Kormos, senior vice president of operations at PJM Interconnection, the company that operates a sizable part of the U.S. utility system in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, in an op-ed this week in the Baltimore Sun.
Perhaps the key passage: “Most of [America's existing electric transmission] system was designed and built decades ago. Even though electricity demand is growing at a slower pace, new generation resources are always needed. Today, most of the proposed projects use wind and solar energy. New transmission lines will be needed to move electricity from renewable sources — many in remote locations, far from existing transmission lines — across multiple states to the urban areas where the power is needed.
“A new approach to the planning of the transmission grid is necessary to address this problem. Reforming transmission planning will enable renewable electricity sources to more fully contribute to meeting the nation's electricity needs.”
The problem, Mr. Kormos says, is straightforward: the rules that govern transmission planning generally restrict it to 1) ensuring system reliability and 2) relieving bottlenecks that cause higher electricity bills for consumers. They don't allow for planning transmission to support a major public policy goal like expanding the nation's supply of clean, renewable energy.
All Americans will benefit from the cleaner air and affordable, homegrown electricity that wind and other renewable sources can generate, and from the increased reliability that a stronger, more robust and modernized transmission system will provide. The cost of expanding the system will be minimal, particularly if it is spread among everyone who benefits.
About five to 10 percent of a typical monthly electric bill goes to pay for transmission. An expanded investment in transmission would slightly increase that part of a consumer’s electric bill, although the increased cost would be more than offset by a significant decrease in the energy costs that make up the majority of the remainder of the electric bill. Why? Because electricity costs would be driven down due to increased competition, reduced electricity losses, and greater access to lower-cost generating options. Additional benefits for consumers include greater protection against volatility in the price of fuels and reductions in costly blackouts. Finally, private sector transmission investment creates jobs and brings economic development to the rural communities that need it most.