Rural transmission study makes good points on energy

Friday, August 12, 2011

We have to question some of the figures put forth in a new study by the Center for Rural Affairs, but the study does make some important points.

To wit, alternative energy like wind is of no value if it can't be delivered where it is most needed. T Boone Pickens found that out when he was unable to bring together the resources for a giant wind farm in Texas, partly because the distribution system wasn't in place.

We question the conclusion that power from conventional coal sources is more costly than power from wind projects, $68 vs. $65 per megawatt-hour, provided the wind projects are built in "high-resource areas," but the trend is certainly in that direction.

Other points made by the "Connect the Dots: "Transmission and Rural Communities" study:

* The majority of transmission lines were constructed 30-50 years ago. Approximately 60 percent of circuit breakers and 70 percent of transformers are now more than 25 years old.

* More than 275,000 megawatts of new wind projects remain unconnected due to a lack of available transmission.

* With adequate transmission, up to 40 percent of electricity demand can be met by wind without adversely impacting grid reliability.

* Every $1 billion of U.S. transmission investment supports approximately 13,000 full-time equivalent years of employment.

* Annual wages associated with transmission construction average $65,3000, compared to $33,760 across all industries.

* At least 100,000 megawatts of additional wind generation is needed to satisfy existing state Renewable Portfolio Standards. An additional 90,000 megawatts would be needed to meet a 20 percent federal Renewable Portfolio Standard. Approximately $210 billion to $400 billion will be needed in order to install the wind capacity necessary to meet these standards, creating 2.6 million to 5 million full-time equivalent years of employment.

* In the past four years, jobs in the renewable energy sector grew nearly eight times the number of jobs associated with conventional energy.

There are other opinions on renewable energy, of course, and none of us want to pay more for electricity than we have to, but as we move into the future with an eye toward energy independence, the study is worth a close look.

The complete study is available at: http://www.cfra.org/files/Connect_the_Dots.pdf

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