When President Eisenhower was growing up in Kansas, he saw America’s byways and back roads develop to meet point-to-point needs, eventually forming a loosely connected national interstate highway network.
The U.S. electric transmission system has similar roots, and it needs a similar vision to meet the needs of the 21st century.
Eisenhower realized the value of good highways in 1919 when he participated in the U.S. Army’s first transcontinental motor convoy from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco—a 62-day trip. During World War II, he crystallized his vision of an interstate highway system based on Germany’s autobahn. In 1956, Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, creating the highway system we enjoy today.
Eisenhower envisioned vast societal benefits for national defense, economic development, and personal safety. He did not get bogged down in structural or control issues. He saw a solution and moved to implement his vision.
The nation’s transmission system has evolved from a series of source-to-load needs, but there were exceptions. In 1966, for instance, American Electric Power (AEP) announced plans to build an interstate 765-kV system to enable diverse siting of a new era of 1,300-MW generating units.
AEP’s 765-kV system was developed to meet the expanding electricity needs of our states and customers via an interstate system covering seven states. That system, which also provides states with the economic opportunities that accompany the siting of new generation, continues to expand with customer demand. The new 765-kV line AEP is building from Wyoming, W.V., to Jacksons Ferry, Va., is a case in point. Other examples of interstate network development include the 500-kV networks in the East, Southeast, and West.
But the transmission infrastructure boom of the 1960s and 1970s has dwindled. Recent development largely has been limited to addressing local reliability needs and connecting new generation to the existing grid.
The federal government has defined and refined the regulation of interstate electric transmission over the last 70 years, yet we continue to experience transmission bottlenecks, paying billions of dollars annually because of congestion, reliability must-run contracts for inefficient generating plants, and lost opportunities for technologically advanced generating plants and new industrial plant development.
Transmission remains trapped between federal and state regulatory regimes, slowing development of a truly, and much-needed, national interstate grid.
As we move into the 21st century, our national vision must be an advanced interstate transmission system that efficiently delivers wholesale power regionally within a competitive market while enhancing regional reliability. This system also should enable, at the state, regional, and national levels:
An interstate transmission grid can produce interstate solutions within many existing organizational structures—vertically integrated utilities as well as independent utilities, both public and privately held.
When President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, he said, “We have a modern interstate grid for our phone lines and our highways. With this bill, America can start building a modern 21st-century electricity grid, as well.”
Several provisions of the act will lay the foundation for a modern interstate transmission grid:
Now, we need an action plan, empowered by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to transform a system of connected but locally planned transmission facilities into a modern interstate bulk-power delivery system under FERC’s authority. We must complete this plan while respecting the states’ jurisdiction over distribution and generation resource adequacy.
The federal government should:
The states should:
The RTOs/ISOs or other transmission service providers should:
The transmission owners should:
AEP, a longtime leader in transmission technology development, has more than 2,000 miles of 765-kV transmission lines that can be the launching point for a regional or national transmission grid overlay. The 765-kV system uses a fraction of the rights-of-way needed for lower-voltage transmission and maximizes the economies of scale for the required capacity. It proved reliable during the August 2003 blackout.
A true interstate transmission system is critical to meet the needs of our nation and our states by enhancing efficiency, reliability and security, as well as enabling a fully developed electricity marketplace. When Eisenhower became frustrated by the debate over a critical interstate need, he said, “Adequate financing there must be, but contention over the method should not be permitted to deny our people these critically needed roads.”
An interstate electric transmission system can be developed if we pursue a vision as strong and as clear as Ike’s.