Two New Transmission Projects, and Matt Wald Is At It Again

Two new transmission lines are in the news.

Exelon, AEP and ETA (a joint venture of AEP and Warren Buffet’s MidAmerica Energy Holdings) are planning the next link in AEP’s Midwest 765 kV power line empire.  You can see it on The Map running up the Indiana/Illinois border and across northern Illinois.  It is difficult to tell exactly where the line goes from the power company press release here, but it looks like the line fits the one shown on The Map of AEP’s power line fantasy.  Of course, the line has a cute name, the RITE Line.  And, of course, the “R” stands for “reliability”.  And, of course, the press release says “it also will support the integration of new renewable energy sources” although the line is clearly designed to connect the coal producing areas of southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio to the lucrative Chicago market.  No mention in the press release that Chicago sits on the shores of Lake Michigan with wind power potential rated “outstanding” by the US Dept. of Energy.

And then we have Matt Wald’s latest apologia in the New York Times for a new transmission line in southern California.  Mr. Wald seems to have picked a project that really is a fount of renewable energy — from a solar/wind/geothermal hot spot.  This is a project that may really be justified by the potential of the resources available.

But — why does Mr. Wald have to bend over backwards to catapult the power company propaganda?  He notes that opponents of the line (which, of course, is called the Sunrise Powerlink) have exposed the dark underbelly of the “renewable” claims:

Opponents argue that the transmission line is not mainly about renewable energy. It could also carry electricity from a plant in northern Mexico that burns natural gas brought in by tanker to a port in Baja California, they say, with attendant fossil fuel emissions. Both the tanker terminal and the power plant were built by San Diego Gas & Electric’s parent, Sempra Energy.

“They’re using wind as a cover,” said Donna Tisdale, an environmental advocate in Boulevard, Calif., in the mountains between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, who filed a suit to block the transmission line.

Then Mr. Wald goes on to use the “no green electrons” argument:

The idea of giving expedited treatment to transmission lines for renewable energy even though some will carry electricity powered by fossil fuels has surfaced in many places around the country. But experts point out that in a power grid, hardly any lines carry only “green” electrons.

“Electrons don’t have colors,” said Yakout Mansour, the president and chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid in most of the state.

“If you don’t have it, it can’t accommodate renewables,” he said of the proposed transmission line. “If you have it, it will carry everything.”

So, which is it, Mr. Wald?  The line is needed for green energy or “if you have it, it will carry everything”?  It was you and the power companies claiming that this line was “green.”  It seems Mr. Wald, rather than clarifying the issues, wants to create the same public confusion that the power companies are using to sell their projects.

Mr. Wald does provide the quote that really tells the tale:

Beyond supplying renewable energy, Mr. Mansour [the RTO official] said, the Sunrise Powerlink line would improve reliability in the San Diego region and would allow cheaper power from east of the city to displace more expensive local generation, saving money for customers.

Just like PATH, the Sunrise Powerlink would undermine investment in power generation closer to load and population centers.  Remember, this is southern California we’re talking about.  The sun shines just as brightly on the roofs of buildings in San Diego as it does in the desert to the east.  I’ll bet that the wind resources off the coast are more reliable than even the strong winds of the Imperial Valley.  So the real story here is that transmission companies want to block more reliable and secure distributed and local generation.

Once again, we see the obsolete centralized power technologies trying to eliminate the real threat from local generation based on renewable sources and new distributed technologies in population centers where power is needed.  Once again, Mr. Wald is preaching “forward, into the past.”