Thursday, February 19, 2009

Three Hopes & A Trillion-Dollar Wind Commitment

I am a hopeful person. So, let me share three of my current hopes with you. My first hope is that, despite my skepticism, I truly am hopeful that President Obama’s stimulus package and the other stuff he’s doing pulls the nation out of our economic tailspin. Something needs to be done; this might not be it, but then again it might be. There are lots of times when I thought something would turn out badly, and they don’t….and my daughters always seem to remind me of those times. So I hope that my daughters are more correct than I feel on this issue and that the actions the Obama Administration is taking will work.

My second hope is that I can do my part for the economy and go on a spring break vacation, especially to some place warm, with sand and swaying palm trees and fresh guacamole. Implementing such a maneuver is a kaleidoscope of moving parts of money, intricate family scheduling, spousal agreement on location, just-a-little-too-late advanced planning and, oh did I say “money.” Perhaps, the stimulus package will solve at least a couple of these issues. I certainly hope so.

My third hope is that stimulus bill’s relatively small down payment on renewable energy and improving the nation’s transmission system spurs the very large investment needed to tap the potential of the nation’s wind resources and deliver it throughout the country. Like planning my family vacation, achieving this hope will require a lot of time, money and effort.

On Monday, February 9, 2009, a group of major transmission owners and operators in the Eastern US made up of the Midwest ISO, Southwest Power Pool, Inc., PJM Interconnection, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mid-Continent Area Power Pool (MAPP), and participants within SERC Reliability Corporation (SERC), who have been working on the “Joint Coordinated System Plan (JCSP’08),” announced their initial analysis of how much it will cost to provide significant amounts of wind to the eastern two-thirds of the country…from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast.

The planners looked at two wind scenarios and examined the transmission and generation implications of them for the years between 2008 and 2024. One scenario assumes an increase in wind energy so that 5% of the region’s electricity comes from wind. The second scenario envisioned 20% of the region’s electricity coming from wind as proposed by legislation in the US Congress mandating a national renewable standard.

The analysis estimates that meeting the 5% wind scenario will require the addition of approximately 10,000 miles of new extra-high voltage transmission at a cost of approximately $50 billion, in addition to nearly $700 billion in total wind generation capital costs by 2024.

The other scenario, that of 20% wind, is estimated to require 15,000 miles of new extra-high voltage lines, at an estimated cost of $80 billion, in addition to $1.1 trillion in total generation capital costs by 2024.

So, $750 billion gets us 5% wind and $1.2 trillion gets us 20% wind….or, for comparison purposes, this is almost as much as we’ve spent on the stimulus bill and bailing out Wall Street. That’s a lot of money, no matter how you cut it. However, just as I hope the stimulus bill provides the needed economic elixir and that in a month or so I am completing my collection of drink umbrellas and listening to the gentle lapping of the Caribbean sea, I hope we can push forward to strengthen the country’s transmission grid and make wind a significant part of the entire nation’s electricity portfolio, not just Minnesota’s.

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