Flexible Planning for Green Resources

By Terry Williamson

The movement to expand the use of renewable energy sources, like wind and the sun, to produce our electricity continues to grow. The examples are everywhere in the PJM region.

Companies are investing large amounts of money in solar energy and wind and proposing offshore wind projects along the Atlantic coast. Between 2005 and 2009, electricity from renewable sources grew more than 15 percent in the U.S. and is expected to grow even more rapidly.

Although renewable energy is important, there are other dynamics, such as a stagnant economy and lower projected energy usage, that must be taken into account in planning the transmission grid. Addressing these new factors and enabling these clean and green resources to make their full contribution to meeting the nation’s electricity needs requires a new approach to the planning of the transmission grid.

New transmission lines will be needed to move electricity from new renewable sources, many in remote locations far from existing transmission lines, across multiple states to the large urban areas where the power is needed. Then, of course there’s the big question of who’s going to pay for building the new transmission infrastructure: renewable energy developers, the buyers of the power, all consumers or some combination?

Transmission planning has to consider all these factors. It may not sound exciting, but the stakes are high. Consumers and businesses would face an unreliable electric grid and higher electricity prices, and renewable energy goals could be hindered, if not enough transmission is built. On the other hand, everyone could end up paying for unneeded investment if we build too much transmission infrastructure. That’s why effective planning by grid organizations is so important – to ensure that the transmission that’s needed to meet reliability, economic and public policy goals is carefully considered and built.

PJM is considering the effects of renewable sources on the grid and working with stakeholders to improve the flexibility of the transmission planning process today so that the transmission is built and ready to deliver power to where it’s needed tomorrow.

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