MISO Lets Renewable Energy Genie Out Of Bottle With Biggest Ever Transmission Project

The forces of partisan politics have been working overtime to bottle up renewable energy development in the US, but here comes MISO to upset the apple cart. MISO is the system operator for the electricity grid in 15 states in the nation’s midsection. It has just announced the biggest portfolio of transmission line projects ever proposed in the US, starting with a $10.3 billion investment in 18 new projects for the northern part of their territory.

More Renewable Energy For The US

MISO (pronounced em-EYE-soh) stands for Midcontinent Independent System Operator, an agency that oversees a grid territory that splits the US practically down the middle and reaches up into Canada.

MISO covers all of part of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin, and the province of Manitoba in Canada.

The states involved in the plan for 18 new transmission line projects are Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. Several states in that region have already been pursuing wind power hand over fist, and some recent activity in the solar power field indicates that the area’s solar profile is also on the move.

MISO sailed across the CleanTechnica radar during the Obama administration, as its grid began loading up with some of the first large-scale wind farms in the US.

“As early as 2012, MISO was reporting a peak, record-setting wind energy output of 10,012 megawatts,” we observed.

That was just for starters. “Driven by the nation’s desire for cleaner energy and state mandates for renewable energy portfolios, MISO now manages more than 11,000 MW of wind generation in service, with more than 7,000 MW of projects advancing through the interconnection requirements,” MISO reported in 2016.

Just four years later, MISO reported 22,040 MW of inservice installed wind capacity, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

Breaking The Bottleneck

That’s the good news. The other news is that there is only so much transmission capacity to go around, and MISO is keenly aware that eager renewable energy developers in their territory have been queuing up around the block to connect their clean kilowatts to transmission lines. That’s queue, as in waiting in line to hook up. And, waiting.

The problem, as in other areas of the US, is that renewable energy resources are deep, but long distance transmission capacity is shallow.

That’s about to end. Our friends over at the Clean Grid Alliance estimate that the 18 new MISO projects alone will unlock 53 gigawatts in new wind, solar, hybrid, and battery-type energy storage projects.

“[That’s] enough to power about 12 million homes and 213,000 jobs,” CGA enthuses. “About 120,000 jobs can also be estimated to result from the transmission work, so we can expect about 333,000 jobs total from the transmission work and renewable resource construction together.”

More Transmission Lines, Less Fossil Energy For The US

Speaking of job creation and domestic energy supply, the new MISO proposal puts the lie to the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which was touted as a job creating machine by its backers. That project, too, was planned for the US midsection, though practically none of the benefits would be realized there.

The pipeline stalled out during the Obama administration and came back to life briefly during the Trump administration, before finally biting the dust last year, when President Joe Biden revoked a key permit as part of a wide-ranging series of executive actions aimed at undoing some of the environmental damage of the previous four years.

Another major fossil energy project in the region, the Dakota Access Pipeline, has been facing desperate pushback from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, among others. When last heard from, the project is on hiatus while the US Army Corps of Engineers does a do-over on its environmental review.

The new set of MISO transmission line proposals also presents a sharp contrast to yet another pipeline proposal in the region, namely, a proposal to pipe carbon from various ethanol plants around the Midwest over to storage sites in North Dakota. Opponents are already organizing against the plan, reportedly taking some cues from the Standing Rock tribe

More Transmission Lines For More Renewable Energy

Where were we? Oh right, The 18 new transmission line projects are actually just Tranche 1 in a meticulously planned series of grid improvements outlined in MISO’s Long-Range Transmission Planning process, which is the articulation of “the shared responsibility that states, utilities, members , and MISO have to address the complex challenges driven by generation fleet change and extreme weather events increasingly threatening electric reliability in the region.”

“These critical projects are needed to begin to integrate new generation resources outlined in MISO member and states plans and increase resiliency in the face of severe weather events,” MISO explains.

As for that $10.3 billion price tag for Tranche 1, MISO estimates that the benefit-to-cost ratio works out to an impressive 2.2, at the very least. “Benefit metrics include congestion and fuel savings, avoided capital costs of local resource investment, avoided transmission investment, resource adequacy savings, avoided risk of load shed and decarbonization,” MISO states.

For those of you keeping score at home, Tranche 2 will also cover the Midwest Subregion, Tranche 3 will focus on MISO South, and Tranche 4 will “address the limitations on power exchange between the MISO Midwest and South Subregions.”

The New Climate Bill Just Made Things A Whole Lot Easier

As if on cue, yesterday Democrats in the US Senate announced an agreement on the new climate bill with the lone holdout on their side of the aisle, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. The bill still has a long way to go before it reaches President Biden’s desk, and of course Senator Manchin could change his mind a again, but the bill is finally on, at least for now.

With all 50 Democrats aligned in favor, and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, the climate bill at least has a better chance of surviving than it did last week, when Manchin said he would not support it.

What changed? Who knows? The end result is a big win for MISO and other transmission planners.

Among the renewable energy themes cited in an official one-page summary of the bill is this one:

“Additionally, the agreement calls for comprehensive Permitting reform legislation to be passed before the end of the fiscal year. Permitting reform is essential to unlocking domestic energy and transmission projects, which will lower costs for consumers and help us meet our long-term emissions goals.”

Interesting! That could leave plenty of wiggle room for all sorts of different energy projects, but the emphasis on cost-cutting and emissions goals puts a big thumb on the scales of new transmission lines for renewable energy.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image credit: Map of proposed new transmission line projects courtesy of MISO.


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