Permitting: The 'Elephant in the Room' in Advancing Clean Energy
Monday, July 24, 2023
As signs of climate change surface in Minnesota, policymakers and utilities are making a hard charge to transition to clean energy sources, but questions remain about whether the power grid will be ready.
Citing independent estimates, the U.S. Department of Energy said to meet demand for sources like wind and solar, the nation will need to expand transmission systems by 60% by 2030 and possibly triple them by 2050.
Amelia Cerling Hennes, managing director of the group Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said the nation's current grid system is old, and was not designed for the newer approach to powering up cars, homes and businesses.
"As more of us convert to electric vehicles, and getting off of our natural gas-powered appliances at home; as we're electrifying things, we're going to need more electricity," Cerling Hennes pointed out. "The current system is just not going to cut it."
There has been promising news, such as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator last year approving $10 billion in projects to integrate more renewable energy. But Hennes warned completing a new transmission line can take up to a decade, and said there should be more urgency in permitting projects, without minimizing public input.
The process is playing out with a proposed transmission line project by Xcel Energy in parts of western Minnesota.
Molly Malone, manager of Minnesota community affairs for the renewable energy developer Invenergy, said they are putting together a wind project which would connect to Xcel's planned line.
"We're not only doing it because of the strong wind resource in the area, but also because there is transmission expansion happening," Malone pointed out. "That transmission expansion is critical to the development of our wind project. They go hand-in-hand."
Not only is grid space a deciding factor, but developers also have to navigate the many layers of approval, including regulators, local governments and buy-in from community members. Hennes noted not getting them all on the same page will make it harder to meet the state's zero-carbon energy goals.
"If we're going to have 100% clean energy by 2040, which is 17 years away, the window of time is pretty short," Hennes cautioned.
This spring, Minnesota lawmakers addressed certain permitting issues, but Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged efficiencies still need to be addressed next session. Around the U.S., the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said it takes five years for the average project to be completed.
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