3 Rivers Clean Energy

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The Electricity Transmission Grid

Electricity transmission and distribution systems are at the breaking point.

In order to move electricity from the plants where it is generated to the places where users are located, each electric utility developed a local distribution system. And in order to enable one utility to sell electricity to another utility in a separate geographic area, the electricity transmission grid was developed.

The electricity transmission grid was originally operated by utilities as an adjunct to their own local distribution systems. When the Federal Energy Policy Act of 1992 was put into place, it opened the grid for competition, and in 1999, utilities were forced to transfer operational control of the grid to regional organizations. Unfortunately, this change removed the incentive for utilities to invest in upgrades to the grid or in new facilities. (Regional transmission lines cost about $1 million/mile.) To compound the situation, since the 1970s, transmission capacity has only grown at half the rate of increase in demand, so the grid was already at risk.

The Department of Energy now predicts that 75% of the grid will soon have to be replaced at a cost in excess of $50 billion. The National Energy Reliability Council (NERC) has been monitoring the transmission capacity in various regions across the country and has concluded that the ability of the grid to carry electricity is eroding at a rapid pace. Also, in its recent study, NERC identified and ranked the major transmission bottlenecks across the country and determined the mid-Atlantic region to be the weakest. That means that the electricity that is available for export from the Three Rivers Region can't get from here to the East Coast where it is needed.

There are several transmission lines under construction or planning to help regional utilities open new markets to the east. The utility AEP just patched one of the biggest holes in the grid with its Wyoming-Jackson Ferry line, which took 16 years to build. The first link of the Tran-Atlantic Interstate Line or TrAIL will begin construction shortly, with an estimated date of completion for the first link in 2011. The TrAIL line will be able to pick up electricity from wind and biomass sources along the way, with the power replacing that produced from much more costly natural gas sources.

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©2007 Janet S. Lauer Consulting. All rights reserved.

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