This week we saw news of a new “electric power superhighway” in Kansas, a bumper crop of energy storage in California, and the small matter of the 2014 Midterm Elections. Kansas cut the ribbon on a 100-mile-long transmission line, SoCal Edison procured more storage than expected, and Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate. Think of it this way: Power Lines, Power Storage, and Power Shift.
In Kansas, stakeholders hailed the official opening of the Prairie Wind Transmission Line, a 108-mile-long, $160 million electrical line that is, by far, the highest-capacity line in Kansas so far. Their bragging rights won’t last, though. The line is the first functional portion of the “V-Plan,” a plan to connect eastern and western Kansas to Nebraska and Oklahoma, and is the northern part of the “X-Plan.” (The map of the planned transmission lines sort of looks like an X. Sort of.) The current line, sometimes called an “electricity superhighway,” will allow for electricity produced by Kansas wind farms to be transmitted to other states.
“We’re going to get cheaper and cheaper as we boost our ability to generate and transmit the lowest-cost power,” said Jim Eckelberger, chairman of the Southwest Power Pool. According to Eckelberger, the Southwest Power Pool, which plans power transmission lines in eight states in the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest, approved the superhighway projects for two reasons: to make the cheapest electricity demand responsive, and to help to develop wind power in the region.
Electrical superhighways like these could be the fix for the wind energy mismatch: wind resource is not located where demand is highest. Or, to put it another way, the windy plains of Kansas don’t have the population density to make use of the electricity generated by wind… unless there is a way to transmit power from one place to another. Problem solved?
Storage is the answer to another mismatch plaguing variable energy resources – between when the power is generated, and when it needs to be used. Energy storage has been a major news story so far this year, and this week is no different. Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that will acquire 250 MW of energy storage system as part of a larger plan to acquire 2,221 MW of new generation assets. Sam Jaffe, writing for Navigant Research, calls the scale of the announcement “staggering,” remarking, “No utility has ever purchased 250 MW of non-pumped hydro energy storage before.”
SCE’s bid for 250 MW of storage is planned to cover the lost capacity of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. The plant permanently shut down last year after cracks in the steam generator were discovered in 2012. “SCE is making a very loud statement about how highly it values energy storage as a grid management tool,” Jaffe writes.
Finally, we turn now to the election earlier this week – or, rather, coverage in the energy press. Reactions ranged from barely concealed panic (Al-Jazeera’s “Elections a ‘bloodbath’ for environmental policy, advocates say”) to moderate optimistism (Mashable’s “The Republican election victories are not the climate policy apocalypse you fear”). One thing we do know for certain: with the majority shifting from Democrat to Republican, Senate committees will be under new leadership, including Energy and Natural Resources, which will now be chaired by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
In terms of Congressional wrangling and posturing, there will be more to come. Hyperbole and hyperventilation aside, however, politics will go on, and advanced energy will continue to appeal across the aisle. For now, the media might want to take a chill pill.
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