Eastern Interconnection grid operators and planners including Southern Co., Duke Energy and the PJM Interconnection called for more transmission and coordination to help meet renewable energy goals in a white paper released Tuesday.
Large amounts of renewables make the grid more complex to operate compared with traditional power plants and complicate the transmission planning process, the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative (EIPC) said in the white paper, Planning the Grid for a Renewable Future.
Reforms to transmission planning, cost allocation and facility siting can overcome those challenges, according to the collaborative, which consists of 19 grid operators and planners like the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The report from the grid planning collaborative feeds into a growing debate on how best to spur transmission development to support state clean-energy targets and the Biden administration's goal of setting the U.S. on a path to having emissions-free electricity by 2035.
The budget reconciliation bill in the House of Representatives includes tax credits for transmission development. Also, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in the early stages of possibly revamping its transmission planning rules.
Even without the administration's efforts, wind and solar projects made up about 90% of the record 755 GW of generation capacity seeking to connect to the U.S. power grid at the end of last year, according to a report released in May by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Amid these developments, the EIPC report aims to help policymakers understand the challenges grid operators face as more renewable facilities come online.
For example, noting one major hurdle to meeting clean-energy goals, the EIPC warned it can take more than a decade to plan, site and build major transmission lines.
"Current processes exist to allocate costs and site transmission, but as the amount, size and complexity of new transmission infrastructure grows, those processes are increasingly being challenged in some regions," the EIPC said. "Siting issues have often caused otherwise beneficial projects to fail before they are built."
There needs to be more coordination between regulators on transmission siting, which can include issues of property rights, land use and environmental and social justice, the EIPC said.
Also, FERC and state regulators should work together to devise a new process for deciding who pays for power lines, according to the group.
EIPC's comments about the challenges in transmission planning, cost allocation and siting are "spot on," according to Michael Goggin, vice president of Grid Strategies, a consulting firm focused on transmission issues.
"There needs to be substantial policy reform across all three [issues] if we are going to cost-effectively integrate the amount of renewable capacity that we're trying to have," Goggin said.
The Texas Competitive Renewable Energy Zones initiative and MISO's Multi-Value Projects show that with coordinated transmission planning and broad cost allocation, transmission lines can be built, according to Goggin.
"I think the regions recognize something needs to change, the states recognize the current system is broken, and so I think it's going to require joint action among states, the regions and FERC to re-implement these policies that we know work," Goggin said.
The Eastern Interconnection covers about two-thirds of North America.
"Given the size and the significant diversity within the interconnection, the insights among the planning coordinators provide a robust view on planning the transmission grid of the future," Keith Daniel, Georgia Transmission senior vice president for transmission policy and EIPC executive committee chairman, said in a statement.