BOSTON – A bipartisan group of 18 governors, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, is proposing that the federal government take a serious look at stitching together the three main United States power grids, comparing the importance of grid modernization to the creation of the interstate highway system 60 years ago.
The idea the governors are pushing is that by improving connections at the seams between the eastern, western and Texas-based grids to energy to be shared between grids would make the nation’s overall electrical power system “more resilient, efficient, reliable, competitive, and less vulnerable to cyber-attack.”
In a letter last week, the Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition urged the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to begin a discussion with states, regional transmission organizations, Congress and businesses around unifying the nation’s power grids.
“Modernizing the nation’s electrical transmission and distribution system is as important to our states’ economic development today as creating the nation’s interstate highway system was 60 years ago,” the governors wrote. “It is nearly impossible to transmit electricity among the nation’s three major grids – Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection, and Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
As a result, very little electricity moves among these regions, further weakening the reliability of the nation’s overall transmission system.”
The coalition of governors is keying off a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study, presented at a conference in July, that concluded that a single American electric grid would make energy delivery significantly cheaper and could extend the reach of cleaner electricity sources, like wind and solar.
One scenario the study contemplates would see three large high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) lines built from the West Coast to the Mississippi River – stitching together the “seam” between grids that roughly follows the Rocky Mountains – with a spur running south into Florida. Many of the long-haul transmission lines could run along existing interstate highway corridors.
This east-west overlay would allow electric power to be directed from the most efficient and affordable generation sites to population centers. Solar power generated in the deserts of the southwest or wind power generated in the plains could be sent to other parts of the country for consumption and power from East Coast offshore wind farms could be transferred across the country when the sun and demand for power go down in the east, according to the study.