Connecting Renewables | NRDC
There are about 1,300 gigawatts (GW) of new resources, mostly renewables and storage, waiting to connect to power grids across the country. That’s more than the combined output of all the power plants operating in the United States today.. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) blames the backlog on rules, put in place more than a decade ago, that made it easier for a small number of large power plants to connect to the grid, but made it more difficult of a large number of small wind turbines and solar projects to do the same. The result is a dead end: projects now face an average delay of nearly four years just to get online.
Beyond the slowdown in the clean energy transition, the blocking of interconnections threatens reliability. This summer, the Midwest faced an increased risk of blackouts due to a supply shortfall that could have been filled if only a fraction of the projects stuck in limbo had come online. Luckily, we got through the summer without major incident, but no one should be complacent – a new supply is urgently needed. Fossil fuel dead ends complain that we are shutting down dirty power plants too quickly. In reality, the clean energy to replace them is ready and waiting, stuck in utility bureaucracy.
If new solar, wind and storage resources cannot be connected, the transition to clean energy will slow, states will fail to meet their climate targets and everyone pay more than necessary For power. Historic incentives for renewables in the Cut Inflation Act make solving this problem even more urgent. Some parts of the country that do not have their interconnection house may miss the estimate $800 billion investments driven by the new climate law. Our inability to connect new resources to the grid appears to be one of the real obstacles to the clean energy transition.
In an effort to keep pace with the wave of renewable energy projects, FERC has undertaken significant regulation designed to help eliminate the interconnection backlog. “As the resource mix changes rapidly, board policies must keep pace,” FERC said in a June statement. Press release announcing the proposed reforms. These “reforms” [will] ensure that interconnection customers can access the network reliably, efficiently, transparently and quickly.
We push FERC will adopt strict standards for transmission system owners to act on the hundreds of renewable energy projects awaiting construction and begin supplying power to the grid. It’s high time to speed up those connections, and that rule is better later than never. Network managers also do some progress on the interconnection reform, which we support. But these are only the first steps. For example, even if the reforms proposed by the grid operator PJM work exactly as planned, it is still not clear that PJM will be able to connect the new generation quickly enough to replace the production of the retiring coal plants, meet the higher energy demands of an electrified economy and meet stated clean energy goals.
Even when it works, the current system promotes a piecemeal approach that is a poor way to plan and pay for the upgrades our power system needs. The root cause of the interconnect delays is that we are still not anticipating future needs. Right now, network upgrades are done one by one as projects come up, much like rewiring your house every time you get a new device. The reforms FERC is working on would “bundle” groups of projects and plan upgrades into one package. So it would be like buying all your appliances once a year and rewiring your house then – a better system, but still no good. What we need is a painfully obvious solution: a to plan for coming Needs.
This is why interconnection reforms alone can only be a partial solution. Have any hope of building clean energy as fast as we need this, FERC must make transmission planning work. As part of his main regulatory proposals When it comes to transmission planning, FERC must demand that we really prepare for the future by looking at what changes we can reasonably expect in both electricity supply and demand. Our current transportation process is dominated by vested interests and focuses more on protecting investments in public services than preparing for the future. This must change.
In addition to the reforms envisaged by FERC, there are are other tools that Congress, regional grid operators, states, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) can deploy to accelerate the pace of new transmission, which is needed to bring more renewable energy to the grid:
- Congress may establish a transmission tax credit that could stimulate $30 billion in investment and bring 30 GW of renewable energy to the grid. Given the broad support for the transmission in Congress, lawmakers are expected to band together and approve this tax credit in the coming months.
- Using its current statutory authority, the DOE should identify high-priority national transmission corridors needed to help meet consumption and clean energy goals. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Cut Inflation Act of 2022 provide the DOE with new loans, grants, and other funding authorities to boost high-capacity transmission. The DOE should move quickly to implement these powers. It can also stimulate the development of offshore wind by working with states and regional transmission organizations in the East to identify the transmission needed to integrate offshore wind.
- States can work cooperatively with transportation providers to develop projects that support their clean energy goals. The collaboration between PJM and New Jersey shows us that this approach can work. Other studies show that regional planning can significantly reduce the cost of grid upgrades to handle large amounts of renewable energy. Even the oil-rich state of Texas has found that these upgrades pay for themselves by giving more people access to low-cost renewable energy.
There are so many things that can be done to bring clean power to the grid, even under current law, starting with clearing the backlog in the interconnection queue and issuing an order aggressive transmission planning. The momentum for clean, lower-cost energy is great, but it will pick up if the grid is small and weak. The ball is now squarely in FERC’s court with the necessary help from the DOE and the States.