Access to high-voltage transmission lines is key for the development of utility-scale solar power projects, as transmission lines are what move the power from where the electricity is generated to where it is consumed. SEIA promotes the expansion of the transmission grid through federal and state initiatives.
One of the primary barriers to the development of solar generation is the lack of transmission capacity serving areas of quality solar resource. Moreover, current transmission planning is occurring on a state-by‐state basis, or with little regard to integrating remote renewable resources. These efforts have largely focused on intrastate transmission, and have neglected to identify and prioritize transmission lines that provide regional and system‐wide renewable energy and reliability benefits.
Thus, interstate transmission lines, which would deliver energy from solar generation facilities to energy demand (“load”) centers in the southwestern United States, have not been the focus of current transmission planning. These interstate lines are both critical from an energy delivery and reliability perspective and complex from a planning perspective. Therefore, a coordinated and cooperative planning effort is required to ensure that these interstate lines are developed expeditiously.
Steps to Overcome Transmission Barriers to Solar Energy
- Transmission planning must be done on a regional level.The Western Electricity Coordinating Council (“WECC”) and other regional efforts currently underway will take far too long to achieve meaningful results, and the geographic interests involved are too disparate and balkanized to be effective. In the near term, the six states that comprise the U.S. Southwest are key for solar development and efforts should be focused on coordinating activities in those states.
- Transmission planning for the region must be implemented on a very disciplined and tight timeframe. Commercial delivery obligations have been structured to meet prescribed requests for proposals (to meet the goals of state renewables portfolio standards (“RPS”) and to meet investment and financial realities. A disconnect exists between current transmission planning processes and the commercial realities for solar developers.
- Transmission planning cannot be achieved without resolving the seams issues – especially cost allocation and scheduling – that exists among control areas. The states, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), utilities, and grid operators must work cooperatively to address the seams issues. Planning cannot be done in geographic or jurisdictional isolation. Each of these entities has a role to play (in siting, transmission study, grid management, and cost recovery) and must do their part to ensure timely development of renewable generation.
- A regional planning process must prioritize the planning, permitting, cost allocation, and construction of key foundational lines.