The U.S. Department of Energy on Oct. 30 announced up to a $1.3 billion commitment for three transmission lines crossing six states.
To ensure that transmission buildout is done in an informed and precise manner, DOE also released a final National Transmission Needs Study “to provide insight into where the grid -- and American communities -- would benefit from increased transmission,” DOE said.
The selected projects are:
- Cross-Tie 500-kV Transmission Line (Nevada, Utah)
- Southline Transmission Project (Arizona, New Mexico)
- Twin States Clean Energy Link (New Hampshire, Vermont)
Cross-Tie is a proposed 214-mile,1, 500-megawatt transmission line connecting existing transmission systems in Utah and Nevada to increase transmission capacity, improve grid reliability and resilience, relieve congestion on other key transmission lines, and expand access to low-cost renewable energy across the region.
The bidirectional nature of Cross-Tie will increase transfer capabilities in the West, unlocking increased access to renewable energy resources in the region, DOE said.
Construction is expected to start in Q1 of calendar year 2025.
The Needs Study estimates that by 2030 the Mountain region will need nearly 2,300 gigawatt-miles GW-mi of new transmission to unlock the power sector emissions savings enabled by Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Cross-Tie will contribute 14% to this regional need.
Southline is a proposed 175-mile, 748 MW transmission line from Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Pima County, Arizona that will help unlock renewable energy development in southern New Mexico and deliver clean energy to growing markets in Arizona that currently rely on fossil fuel generation. The project, which is the first phase of a longer line, will make smart use of existing transmission rights of way along parts of its route, upgrading aging transmission facilities that are the source of congestion and constraints in the region.
Construction is expected to start in Q1 of calendar year 2025.
The Needs Study estimates that by 2030 the Southwest will need 935 GW-mi of new transmission to unlock the power sector emissions savings enabled by IRA. The Southline project will contribute 14% to this regional need.
Twin States is a proposed 1,200 MW high-voltage direct current bidirectional line that will expand the capacity of the New England electric grid and improve its resiliency, reliability, and efficiency by providing access to clean firm energy supplies in Quebec, Canada. The bidirectional design of the Twin States line will also allow the New England grid to export power to Canada when New England is producing more energy than it needs to meet its own demand, which is expected to occur as the offshore wind industry in New England expands.
Construction is expected to start in Q3 or Q4 of calendar year 2026. The Needs Study predicts the North East region will need 1.5 GW of new transfer capacity with its neighbors; Twin States will provide 79% to this interregional need.
WAPA Administrator and CEO Tracey LeBeau Joins DOE, Other Officials at Announcement
Western Area Power Administration Administrator and CEO Tracey LeBeau joined U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, DOE Grid Deployment Office Director Maria Robinson and other public and private entities for the announcement unveiled by Granholm at the Apache Substation in Arizona.
In introducing Granholm, LeBeau highlighted that transmission projects like the Southline project, which will be commercially developed by Houston-based Grid United, will play a critical role as the U.S. continues its energy transformation.
“Projects at this scale often require coordination and cooperation among federal, state, Tribal, local and industry partners to develop and to construct, often taking years of technical planning and sophisticated sponsors to get them over the finish line,” LeBeau commented. “Speaking for WAPA, we have enjoyed playing our part in the development pathway for the Southline project. As Grid United continues with its development, we are excited about the prospective value it will bring to WAPA’s customers and the region, a region that is quickly becoming one of the most rapidly growing in the country.”
More than 10 years in the making, the Southline project’s original statement of interest was submitted to WAPA’s Transmission Infrastructure Program in March 2011.
WAPA began its federal evaluation of the project in 2012 in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, with the final environmental impact statement published in late 2015.
The project is a unique multi-party, public-private partnership project, a portion of which will rebuild WAPA’s existing transmission system that delivers hydroelectricity from Arizona’s Parker and Davis dams, WAPA said.
Needs Study Details
The Needs Study estimates that by 2035 the U.S. must more than double the existing regional transmission capacity and expand existing interregional transmission capacity by more than fivefold “on our way to economy-wide decarbonization and help President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act unlock its full clean energy potential,” DOE said.
These regional and interregional transmission needs increase significantly to achieve economy-wide decarbonization by 2050, according to DOE.
A Transmission Facilitation Program and the Needs Study represent financial and planning elements of DOE’s three-pronged approach to expanding and modernizing critical electric infrastructure: enhancing transmission planning, strengthening permitting processes, and providing financial tools to support deployment, DOE said.
The Oct. 30 announcement marks the first projects supported by the Transmission Facilitation Program.
Transmission Facilitation Program
The Transmission Facilitation Program is a $2.5 billion revolving fund to help overcome the financial hurdles associated with building new, large-scale transmission lines, upgrading existing transmission lines, and connecting microgrids in Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. territories, DOE said.
Under the program, DOE is authorized to borrow up to $2.5 billion to purchase a percentage of the total proposed capacity of the eligible transmission line.
“By offering capacity contracts, DOE increases the confidence of additional investors, encourages additional customers to purchase transmission line capacity, and reduces the overall risk for project developers,” it said.
DOE anticipates releasing a second round of Transmission Facilitation Program funding in the first half of 2024 through a request for proposals that may include a combination of public-private partnerships, loans, and capacity contracts, totaling up to $1 billion.
The National Transmission Needs Study serves as DOE’s triennial state of the grid report and assesses current and near-term future transmission needs through 2040.
The Needs Study is not intended to displace existing transmission planning processes and is not intended to identify specific transmission solutions to address identified needs, but it does identify key national needs that can inform investments and planning decisions.
DOE said that key findings of the Needs Study include the following:
- There is a pressing need for additional electric transmission infrastructure in nearly all regions of the country to improve reliability and resilience, address high energy costs, and reduce congestion and constraints. Regions with historically high levels of within-region congestion — the Northwest, Mountain, Texas, and New York regions in particular — as well as regions with unscheduled flows that pose reliability risks — California, Northwest, Mountain, and Southwest regions — need additional, strategically placed transmission deployment to reduce this congestion.
- Increasing interregional transmission is needed to move electricity from where it is available to where it is needed, and results in the largest benefits to customers in reducing congestion and constraints. Historically, the data assessed show a need for transmission to alleviate transmission constraints that prevent moving electricity across the interconnection seams -- between the Mountain and Plains regions and between Texas and all its neighbors.
Needs will shift over time as the clean energy transition, evolving regional demand, and increasingly extreme weather events must all be accommodated by the future power grid, the federal agency said.
“By 2030 large relative deployments of interregional transfer capacity are needed between the Delta and Plains, Midwest and Plains, and Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions to meet future demands of the power grid. By 2040 there is a significant need for new interregional transmission between nearly all regions,” DOE said.
The Needs Study, along with other information relating to electric energy transmission capacity constraints and congestion, can inform potential designation of National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs).
The Needs Study released Oct. 30 does not designate any NIETCs. DOE is planning to release further guidance regarding its process for designating NIETCs.
An information webinar reviewing the results of the Needs Study will be held on November 8, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. EST. Registration is required.