In energy policy conversations across the country, one key point often is missing: the growing importance of electricity transmission infrastructure to our economy. From powering our homes and communities to supporting vast digital empires, we can all agree that electricity is fundamental to our daily lives.
The changing energy generation mix and innovations like mobility, transportation and technology integration are adding up to increased demands and stress on electric transmission infrastructure that was largely built decades ago, without the technology inputs of today and tomorrow in mind.
These modern developments, combined with the impact of natural and man-made threats on energy infrastructure, have cast the concept of grid reliability into a new, welcome dialog extending to system resilience – the ability of a power system to withstand or quickly recover from disruptive events. Considering last year’s catastrophic Atlantic hurricane season spanning multiple regions, and cyberthreats to the power grid becoming more sophisticated, redundancy in the transmission system – the existence of multiple pathways to connect electricity to customers – offers perhaps the best path to resilience and protection against adverse events.
As numerous studies have shown, investment in transmission infrastructure consistently delivers many times its cost in economic and reliability benefits to consumers. The private investor-owned utility industry historically has funded these grid investments, and we stand ready to make needed improvements going forward, provided the regulatory and planning environment is conducive to investment.
The federal government has an essential role in our electrified future. First, we applaud efforts by Congress to streamline the permitting process for new infrastructure. Today, permitting for a major interstate transmission line can take nearly a decade due to the need to secure a range of federal, state and local permits. Additional efficiencies could be gained through improved coordination among participating agencies and greater certainty surrounding permitting timelines.
Second, regional authorities need to use the latest and most comprehensive methodologies to plan and approve new transmission lines. Planning the grid proactively requires that benefits of a potential investment be viewed more expansively, by integrating a range of project benefits and planning drivers into criteria for approving projects. According to the industry group WIRES, reforming transmission planning is the key to unlocking as much as $47 billion in annual customer electric bill savings amid the rapidly evolving energy generation landscape. We should listen.
Finally, federal action can help us get going with the construction of new transmission lines that connect regions of the country that today remain highly separated electrically. More interregional connections will increase system flexibility and resilience against potential threats, while still allowing for regionally flexible approaches to joint planning.
These approaches toward modernizing our electric infrastructure require a new, customer-oriented mindset. We can all agree there’s no such thing as the status quo; the pace of change will only increase in our industry.
With the continued drive toward a greener, cleaner energy future, increasing consumer demands for reliability, accessibility and affordable energy, and the need to protect our infrastructure, we must get started now within our states, regions and nationally to collaborate on the necessary policies to facilitate a robust and resilient transmission grid to meet our future energy needs.
Continued engagement, dialog and openness to new solutions including energy storage and how to fairly allocate the cost of grid investments must be priorities to ensure that we have a robust, reliable and flexible electric grid that meets the needs of customers today and down the road.
As we continue these important conversations, the nation’s backbone electric grid must be viewed through the lens of enabling all other vital infrastructure – and supporting local, nontransmission alternatives that complement the grid. Let’s invest now to bring our nation’s high voltage transmission system into the 21st century.
I am confident that the public and private sectors can come together to meet our modern energy challenges.
Linda H. Apsey is president and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp., the country’s largest independent electricity transmission company.
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