Conceptual_Map_Midwest

Wind power is coming of age as the U.S. becomes the global wind leader and probably the biggest source of new jobs in the energy industry.

ITC Holdings announced Monday plans to build a $10 to $12 billion power transmission network to move 12,000 megawatts of electricity from the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa to the Chicago area.

ITC called the plan, depicted above, the Green Power Express, saying it could:

result in a reduction of up to 34 million metric tons of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of about seven to nine 600 MW coal plants.

ITC made its announcement the same day a major study, the Joint Coordinated System Plan, was released by the Midwest grid operator and other U.S. regional grid managers was released. It concluded that to increase wind power to 20 percent of electricity production by 2024 (requiring some 230 GW of wind) would require some 15,000 miles of new transmission costing $80 billion. The total cost of the wind would be some $1 trillion.

The WSJ reports this as “New Grid for Renewable Energy Could Be Costly.” But in fact the study found that “increasing wind’s share to 20 percent of U.S. power production would yield annual net savings of $12 billion annually by 2024 based on wind’s low production cost compared to the fossil plants the turbines would replace,” as Energy Daily (sub. req’d) explained.

Moreover, JCSP projects that the 20 percent scenario would save 3 billion tons of carbon over the next 16 years, which would generate in 2024 an annual value of some $40 billion a year at carbon prices comparable to that which the European Union has seen over the past year — and several times that if the price of carbon to reaches levels needed to stabilize at 450 ppm.

One reason I say wind power has come of age is because the announcement and the study don’t come from your traditional pro-wind trade groups or think tanks. Far from it.

ITC is “the country’s only investor-owned, pure-play transmission company.” It says “it has lined up support from several wind generators and utilities along the route of the project.”

ITC’s biggest caveat is that “it will need certain regulatory assurances and incentives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to make the project work financially.” This is a job for team Obama. They are definitely going to need Sue Tierney for deputy secretary, since she was executive director of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Council.

The JCSP is one of the most credible studies ever done, and it supports the Bush DOE report that said wind can be 20 percent of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs. As reported by Transmission and Distribution World:

The study represents the collaborative efforts of Midwest ISO, Southwest Power Pool, Inc., PJM Interconnection, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mid-Continent Area Power Pool (MAPP), and participants within SERC Reliability Corp. (SERC). Among the key features of the study are:

  • It used a collaborative, transparent, stakeholder process to develop and screen assumptions and postulate transmission expansion possibilities.
  • It used a common approach with system condition assumptions to characterize the majority of the Eastern Interconnection in a single multi- regional analysis, rather than conducting parallel, region-specific analyses.
  • It used study tools and databases that are in common use in the electric power industry.

One final point that Energy Daily notes:

Interestingly, the JCSP transmission study suggests it is not markedly cheaper to aim for a far more modest wind power goal — 5 percent of total generation in the Eastern Interconnection — than to go for 20 percent.

Expanding transmission to meet the 5 percent wind goal would cost $50 billion — as opposed to $80 billion to get all the way to 20 percent — says the study. New wind farms needed to hit 5 percent would cost $700 billion, the study says.

Certainly getting to 20 percent wind is no slam dunk. But the ITC announcement makes clear that the private sector is ready to make big investments now. And the JCSP study makes clear that the goal is not only attainable, but would bring with it big economic benefits and even bigger greenhouse gas benefits.

The ball is in the court of President Barack “We will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years” Obama.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.