California flag renewable energyThis post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

Western grid operators have been making plans for large-scale renewable energy imports into the California electricity market, prompting the governor’s senior advisor for renewable energy facilities to write a “self-reliance” response.

Here are a few highlights of his letter [PDF] to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC):

California has plenty of in-state development: “The California Independent System Operator [CAISO] indicates that renewable projects totaling 70,000 [megawatts] of installed capacity [nearly enough to meet all of the state’s peak summer demand] are seeking to connect to the CAISO-managed grid.”

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Transmission costs are up, way up: In particular, “the developer of at least one significant line, TransWest Express, expects the project to cost about 70 percent more than WECC’s original assumptions … we thus appreciate the ongoing efforts of WECC staff to review these and other assumptions and to revise capital cost assumptions upward.”

Transmission line risks: “Transmission lines proposed to stretch hundreds of miles over private and public lands face significant permitting and development risk — perhaps most so in the case of DC [direct current] lines, which offer few electrical benefits to the states they cross.”

In summary, California has a robust in-state market for renewable energy and sufficient in-state renewable resources to serve its entire electricity needs, so Western states would do well to temper their export optimism.

Self-reliance popular on both coasts

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The letter from Gov. Jerry Brown’s office in California is the latest in a slew of comments from the coasts arguing for locally generated renewable energy rather than importing renewable power over a large-scale network of transmission lines from the interior.

In a New York Times op-ed, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles wrote:

Lawmakers should resist calls to add an extensive and costly new transmission system that would carry electricity from remote areas like Texas, the Great Plains, and Eastern Canada to places with high energy demands like Boston, Chicago, and New York … Renewable energy resources are found all across the country; they don’t need to be harnessed from just one place.

In May 2009 (and again in 2010), the governors of 10 East Coast states wrote to senior members of Congress to protest paying for a transmission system that would default them to importers of power.  Requiring their residents and businesses to pay billions of dollars for new transmission lines that would import electricity from the upper Midwest and Southwest into their region “could jeopardize our states’ efforts to develop wind resources … ” They added, “It is well accepted that local generation is more responsive and effective in solving reliability issues than long distance energy inputs.”

Nine of the 10 eastern states whose governors signed the May 2009 letter could get over 80 percent of their electricity from in-state renewable resources, according to the Energy Self-Reliant States report (map below).

This map should shape the market

State energy self-reliance potentialClick to enlarge.

The southeast United States is the only region where wind and solar power are limited. But even so, every state could get at least 20 percent of its electricity from in-state renewable energy. Renewable energy imports may be necessary, but not for many years.

Many wind and solar developers may like the low-cost profile of wind in the Mountain West or Midwest and solar in the sunny Southwest, but their plans to ship that power to the coasts via new high-voltage power lines built at ratepayer expense may run afoul of their prospective customers.

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