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New federal rule aims to create more long-distance power lines

Daniel Ackerman May 14, 2024
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As energy demand surges, FERC's new rule will help update the nation’s aging power grid. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

New federal rule aims to create more long-distance power lines

Daniel Ackerman May 14, 2024
Heard on:
As energy demand surges, FERC's new rule will help update the nation’s aging power grid. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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As this country continues shifting from fossil fuels, one of the things we’ll need to do in order to keep electricity costs low and reliability high is build more long-distance power lines. On Monday, federal regulators made moves to encourage that. A new rule calls on electric grid operators to draw up plans for the future, when the grid is likely to include more wind and solar power.

Some people line up to see Taylor Swift. But Rob Gramlich, president of the energy consultant Grid Strategies, lines up for meetings of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“I was second in line, but my Grid Strategies colleague was first,” Gramlich said.

Gramlich was there when FERC approved the new rule, which he said was a long time coming.

“You would think planning for the future would be what transmission planners do. The reality is, there has been very little planning for the future around our industry,” he said.

He said that’s in part because the U.S. power grid grew out of thousands of local ones, each serving a town or company. Connecting those mini-grids made the system more reliable. But we still don’t have enough connections, said Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard Law School.

“There’s a reason that the utility industry has underbuilt transmission,” Peskoe said.

He said some power plant operators oppose more long-distance lines, “because transmission can provide opportunities for their power plant competitors to connect to the system and potentially undercut utilities’ historic monopolies.”

But more electrical connections are just what this economy needs, said Catherine Hausman, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

“We need to integrate more wind and solar, and we need to integrate more sources of demand,” Hausman said.

Think data centers, heat pumps and electric cars. Long-distance transmission can bring those users cheap power, which might be from a wind farm hundreds of miles away.

“More transmission allows grid operators to use the least-cost power plants,” Hausman said.

And as a result, “we’ll be able to just get more energy onto the grid at a time that we need it,” said Neil Chatterjee, former FERC chairman.

And the economic impact of that, Chatterjee said, is priceless.

Because without a functional grid, there’s not much of an economy to speak of.

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