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Transmission Projects Are a Breath of Fresh Air (Maybe that’s Just the Wind Power?)

Let’s face the truth here – America’s electric grid infrastructure is in desperate need of a major upgrade, and as soon as possible. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reiterated this earlier this year when they graded the U.S. electrical grid a disconcerting D+ for 2013. Based on ASCE estimates, a national $3.6 trillion effort is needed by 2020 to vastly reduce the risk of transmission inefficiencies and costly power outages.

But after rigorous research and planning, the U.S. government can announce the full approval of first new major American transmission project in decades. On November 12, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) officially approved the Gateway West Transmission Line project – a 900-mile connection that will offer up to 1,500 megawatts of energy capacity across southern Idaho and Wyoming.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made the initial announcement and then spoke more in-depth on the benefits of the project, “… Gateway West is a high priority project of the President’s power infrastructure initiative… [the] line will strengthen the Western grid, bringing a diversified portfolio of renewable and conventional energy to meet the region’s projected growth in electricity demand.”

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Gateway West Map Overview – Courtesy of International Business Times

As Jewell alluded, Gateway West is also the first national project to utilize existing renewable energy. A series of wind farms throughout the region will generate most of the energy that will flow through the new transmission lines, along with a small percentage of fossil fuel electricity.

Gateway West is the first of seven pilot transmission projects selected by the Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT) to finalize its approval and funding. The RRTT is an interagency initiative launched by President Obama in 2009 to address grid issues like strengthening grid reliability and incorporating additional renewable energy. The remaining six pilot programs will also transmit power created by renewable energy, although exactly which type(s) of renewables is not certain.

Similar to the development of the Keystone pipeline, many of the seven RRTT pilot transmission projects will link together to form a wide swath of new transmission lines across the western U.S. When fully completed, they will run approximately 2,000 miles – starting from Nevada, stretching northeast to Wyoming, then going back west into Washington state and Oregon – carrying 4,500 megawatts of electricity along the way.

Former secretary of the DOI Ken Salazar was quoted by International Business Times in October regarding the RRTT projects, stating, “…Transmission is a vital component of our nation’s energy portfolio, and these seven lines, when completed, will serve as important links across our country to increase our power grid’s capacity and reliability.”

Gateway West will begin construction next year and will be completed between 2016-2021.

Is there a major problem spot near you where you believe the DOI should get involved to repair? Are you confident with the reliability of wind energy to satisfy large quantities of demand in Idaho and Wyoming? Let us know in the comments section below.

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