Renewable Resources and Load Centers
Achieving a carbon-free power sector by 2035 will require enormous growth in U.S. renewable power generation. But equally important is ensuring that clean power can move from renewable-rich areas to where people live. That is not currently the case in the United States, as the chart shows large swaths of the country with no local access to abundant renewable resources. This means wind and solar energy are generally used around the areas where it is plentiful. Areas where it is not plentiful often rely on tools like renewable portfolio standards to encourage renewable generation in that area. But it is inefficient to encourage the use of these resources in areas not abundant with them.
The United States needs a high voltage grid to move renewable power the way its train and pipeline network currently makes fossil fuels widely available around the country. But “not in my backyard” arguments and jurisdictional fights are time and again becoming obstacles to prevent the expansion of high-voltage transmission line projects. The federal government can step in using two complementary approaches. First (the hammer), make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the primary venue for electricity transmission permitting (a role it already has for interstate oil and gas pipelines). This can be done either through legislation or more aggressive use of the Department of Energy’s power to designate National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors between wind and solar resources and population centers. Second (the feather), the government can provide conditional or supplementary funding to encourage the building of transmission lines along existing rights-of-way such as waterways, railroads and highways. This is the approach the Biden administration is taking in its American Jobs Plan. However, with the threat of the former, which would impose eminent domain on unwilling property owners, states may be more amenable to the latter.