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The U.S. needs new transmission lines to move renewable power. They're finally getting built

Large transmission lines and power towers stand atop a cliff face... with additional lines stretching into the horizon.
Image Credit: Wix

Across the United States, utilities and power grid managers are finally getting approvals in place and making plans to build huge transmission lines that can move renewable energy within and between states.

For anyone who cares about lower power bills and more reliable electricity this new development is a case of better late than never.

These transmission lines are critical for the successful transition to renewable power, which should create more reliable and stable sources of power and ultimately drop the cost of electricity for consumers.

"Extreme weather events have made a lot more people aware of power grids—and how they can fail. Two years ago in Texas, the local grid failed after three winter storms in a row. Hundreds of people died, and millions were without power for days," Bill Gates wrote in January about the case for new transmission lines.

Now, around the country, the solutions that Gates called for are being put in place.

"The solution is clear: We need to upgrade our grid, build more high-voltage transmission lines that can carry electricity long distances, and use those transmission lines to better connect regions and communities to one another," Gates wrote.

That's why projects like the Southwestern SunZia project, TransWest Express Rockies, the Grain Belt Express to the Midwest, and Champlain Hudson Power Express into New York City are so important.

For years, these multi-billion dollar projects were stuck in limbo thanks to objections from residents worried about the construction, lack of funding, and the complications associated with building anything new in the U.S.

But, as Bloomberg News reported, these projects are moving ahead, with groundbreaking schedules slatded for later this year and early next year.

The price tag for these efforts will be around $13 billion according to Bloomberg's reporting, but that's dwarfed by the spending already occurring in other places around the world.

China, for instance, is investing in new power lines that will criss-cross the massive country, creating a jump in available power capacity and a pathway to wean the nation off of its addiction to carbon-emitting coal power.

The price tag for China's 30 year infrastructure buildout will be around $300 billion, but it's creating lots of jobs and will be able to provide low-cost power for the country's roughly 1.4 billion people.

In the U.S., the projects slated to begin could still be hamstrung by political opponents and cost overruns, but these days, with climate-related weather events like heat waves and sudden, extreme cold placing more demand on the electricity grid, longstanding opponents to new development seem to be on board with the projects.

“There is no transition without transmission – that’s my new mantra,” Rob Gramlich, founder of Grid Strategies LLC, a power-sector consulting firm, told Bloomberg.

Some of the newfound energy to build new energy pipelines stems from assurances in the Inflation Reduction Act that solar and wind projects will be able to access tax credits that improve their economic viability. Those guarantees have a knock-on effect to make sure that there's actual demand for the lines and power to move on them.

Big transmission projects are key to large-scale renewable development because renewable power assets often aren't located near big population centers and sources of demand.

The Pattern Energy SunZia project is a good example. The project is designed to move enough power for about 2.25 million homes from New Mexico to Arizona... and eventually on to the West Coast.

“It will unlock resources to places that really need it,” Cary Kottler, the company’s chief development officer, told Bloomberg.

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