A report released Aug. 1, by the Center for Rural Affairs, “Connect the Dots: Transmission and Rural Communities,” finds that expansion of the electric transmission grid is key to a clean energy future. And an improved grid is necessary to bring more wind energy online, creating rural jobs in both transmission and wind industries.
“The wind is always blowing somewhere,” said report author Johnathan Hladik, “an integrated and robust grid with new lines connecting high-wind areas to demand centers will enable wind power to meet an increasing share of our energy needs.” Hladik went on to explain that with adequate transmission, up to 40 percent of U.S. electricity demand can be met by wind without storage technology or reserve generation in excess of what is already in place for conventional sources such as coal, nuclear and natural gas.
A full copy of the report can be downloaded at: www.cfra.org/files/Connect_the_Dots.pdf
According to Hladik’s report, renewable energy sources are most abundant near rural communities, where up to 275,000 MW of potential wind power remain unconnected due to a lack of available transmission. Developing these resources will encourage economic development while keeping this money in local communities. Wages paid to those involved in transmission construction average $65,300 compared to $33,760 across all industries.
The report also notes that now is an opportune time to upgrade the transmission system. A majority of transmission lines were constructed 30 to 50 years ago. “The system needs to be upgraded. By investing strategically, we can improve the reliability of the transmission grid and unlock new wind potential at the same time,” said Hladik.
The report outlines the following economic development impacts of new transmission
• Growth of electricity demand has exceeded transmission expansion by nearly 25 percent every year since 1982.
• At a minimum, 30,000 to 40,000 miles of new transmission are needed in the United States by 2030.
• Every $1 billion of U.S. transmission investment supports approximately 13,000 fulltime equivalent years of employment.
• By some estimates, transmission investment in the United States will range from $12 billion to $16 billion annually through 2030.
• 100,000 MW of additional wind generation is needed to satisfy existing state Renewable Portfolio Standards.
• An additional 90,000 MW would be needed to meet a 20 percent federal Renewable Portfolio Standard.
• Between $210 billion and $400 billion will be needed in order to install the wind capacity necessary to meet these standards, creating 2.6 million to 5 million full-time equivalent years of employment.
• In the past 4 years, jobs in the renewable energy sector grew nearly 8 times as much as jobs associated with conventional energy.
• Over 225,000 clean energy jobs were created or preserved in the third quarter of 2010.
Wind power is also becoming competitive with conventional power sources. One estimate puts the cost of coal generated power at $68 per megawatt-hour, while power generated from projects built in high wind areas cost $65 per megawatt-hour. New transmission capacity is key to bringing this wind power online, the report notes.
“Opening the door to more wind power will bring opportunity to rural communities across the nation. A comprehensive effort to upgrade existing transmission lines while strategically placing others is a critical step forward to capture this opportunity,” Hladik concluded.