Amid the din of conversations about how South Dakota alone gets enough wind to power a quarter of the country, or the huge efficiency gains of nuclear power, or how harnessing the movement of the tides could provide 20% of Britain’s energy needs, one important fact gets lost: The power grid in the U.S. has barely been upgraded in 20 years, and is nowhere near ready to move vast amounts of power across long distances. As energy demand rises and we start to look at large centralized installations (wind, hydro, nuclear, other), we overlook a politically inconvenient truth – without vast investments in the power grid itself, all that new energy isn’t going anywhere. The grid is already full-to-bursting, and moving lots of energy across long distances is a giant headache.
When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.
“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.