Regional Transmission and Distribution Planning

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Decisions and investments made in the coming decade will shape the course of the United States’ power sector, economy, and public health for decades to come. Will this massive investment lock in an inefficient, century-old system reliant primarily on centralized fossil fuel, or will it move us toward a cleaner, more efficient, and economic energy future?

According to independent expert analyses, the cost of a renewables-heavy grid is lower than the existing system, but only with robust transmission to complement it. The barriers to building new high voltage lines and optimizing the grid aren’t technical or economic, but rather bureaucratic. Insufficient policies prevent the U.S. from accessing its rich resources of clean energy, and spreading the resulting benefits throughout the economy.

In addition to classic transmission planning, work in the area of “non-transmission alternatives” can also play an important role in minimizing system costs by taking advantage of a whole new class of reliable, clean resources. Non-transmission alternatives include resources like energy efficiency, local generation, microgrids, demand response, and more.

Energy Innovation’s papers on transmission and siting comprise a toolkit for state and federal decision makers to coordinate better, engage stakeholders more effectively, optimize the existing grid, capitalize upon important non-transmission demand-side resources demand-side, and stimulate competition to fast-track the most important projects.


Siting Renewable Generation: The Northeast Perspective, by Eleanor Stein and Mike O’Boyle – Energy Innovation (March 2017)

The Northeastern U.S. is simultaneously home to the country’s most ambitious regional renewable energy goals and the country’s most constrained lands. This paper builds upon past work on siting policy to examine siting solutions tailored to meeting renewable energy demand in a land-constrained region. Along with creative new approaches to renewables siting, the paper examines four approaches to reduce the need for land-intensive utility-scale renewables.

Transmission Policy: Planning for and Investing in Wires, by John Jimison – Energy Future Coalition and Bill White – David Gardiner & Associates (October 2013)

America’s aging grid infrastructure is in need of a substantial overhaul as new energy sources become available. This paper suggests five ways to reduce the institutional and political barriers to building new grid infrastructure: 1) assess and communicate the benefits of transmission expansion; 2) prioritize inter-regional lines that link balancing areas; 3) harmonize grid operations and increase market competition; 4) reduce timeline for planning, building, and siting transmission; and 5) optimize transmission lines once they are operational.

Siting Policy: Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission, by Carl Zichella – Natural Resources Defense Council and Johnathan Hladik – Center for Rural Affairs (October 2013)

This paper focuses on the reforms needed to locate, coordinate, and expedite any new generation or transmission that the grid system requires. New approaches will require engaging stakeholders early, accelerating innovative policy and business models, coordinating among regulatory bodies, employing smart strategies to avoid the risk of environmental and cultural resource conflicts, and improving grid planning and operations to take better advantage of existing infrastructure to reduce costs of integrating more renewable energy.


Saving Time, Money and the Environment with Smart Planning for Power Lines. Alex Daue. Greentech Media, July 2018.

Canadian Hydro: A Lifeline for Northeastern Clean Energy Goals? Mike O’Boyle. Greentech Media, October 2016.

The Western US Needs Better Regional Planning to Modernize the Grid. Mike O’Boyle. Greentech Media, July 2015.