Clean energy and a grid for the future

Growing up in a region many call flyover country, I am used to hearing about the “endless” drive endured to “get through” my home state of Kansas. But let’s leave the austere beauty of my home state up for debate and instead consider the potential of these remote places to generate energy.

The growing interest in harnessing wind blowing across the Great Plains, or the sun’s rays that beat down on the arid desert Southwest, has many people talking about how to move the clean renewable power abundant in these places across great distances to the load centers where people live.

Unfortunately, the country’s aging transmission grid can’t support the national investment required to repower America with clean renewable energy. The economic recovery package under consideration makes an important down payment on the energy efficiency and digital “smart grid” technologies that will help wring the slack from the existing system, helping Americans save both energy and money.

But what advocates of renewable energy really want is a more efficient grid that will moderate our demand for electricity and reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that if smart grid technologies made the United States’ grid 5 percent more efficient, it would equate to eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars.

Replacing the coal and other dirty power plants that dot our nation requires tapping the country’s tremendously rich and diffuse sources of wind and solar power while also building new interstate transmission lines. Under current processes, planning and siting interstate transmission lines can be a complicated and expensive process that does not prioritize reaching into renewable energy zones. Often, the siting process appears to ignore other environmental concerns.

New policies are needed to accelerate the development of green transmission that furthers President Obama’s clean energy vision. The work of creating such lines would unlock not only our clean, renewable energy but also create jobs and contribute to our economic prosperity. However, repowering the nation must also safeguard the wildlife and natural resources that help keep American communities safe and prosperous.

For this reason, The Wilderness Society drafted a letter for Congress, signed by 22 leading renewable energy companies, conservation, and other organizations, that asked our leaders to consider these priorities when drafting new transmission legislation. We need to make sure we’re building a transmission grid for the future, not replicating the past.