Macro Grid in the Congressional Limelight

  • Tracy Warren

By: Tracy Warren
August 3, 2020

“The pursuit and achievement of a Macro Grid – an interregionally connected backbone for the nation’s transmission grid – is essential for the United States to achieve its climate goals and ‘charge up’ the economy.” This was the message that Beth Soholt, the Executive Director of the Clean Grid Alliance, delivered to Congress during a hearing before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on July 28, 2020.

Speaking on behalf of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG), Soholt outlined the benefits of a Macro Grid for the environment, the economy and consumers. At the same time, she urged specific reforms to remove barriers to interregional transmission planning.

Click above to watch Beth Soholt’s testimony.

“Expanding interregional high-voltage transmission, tightening up the ‘seams’ that exist between the various transmission operators, and adding a network of High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) lines could deliver significant carbon emissions reductions,” Soholt explained.

Soholt’s appearance before the Committee brought transmission needs to the forefront of today’s climate discussion. Her testimony laid out the important role that transmission will play in enabling the replacement of fossil fuel generation by pollution-free renewable generation in the ongoing energy transition. “A Macro Grid can deliver renewable energy from the resource to load, enhance grid resiliency, and dramatically reduce carbon emissions by spurring a large amount of renewable energy development,” Soholt told the Committee.

She added that utilities have done a fantastic job of bringing renewable energy online and operating the grid reliably.

“[Utilities] have seen the economic benefit to customers over the long term,” Soholt said. “For the last two years, new wind and solar additions to the grid have outstripped other resources, including natural gas. But the current rate of growth is insufficient to meet climate action goals laid out in the Committee’s majority report, Solving the Climate Crisis.”

“The reason we need to work on the Macro Grid vision is because we need to be able to move [the power from renewable] resources from where they’re located to where they’re needed.”

Soholt also made clear that climate goals are just one of the drivers for a Macro Grid. “… [T]he grid does many more things than just facilitate the interconnection of renewables, so we’re going to get extra benefits of grid reliability; we’re going to get the extra benefits of reducing prices by lowering congestion costs; we’re going to get the additional benefits of communities getting taxes paid by utilities and all the jobs and economic development that come along with the Macro Grid.”

A Macro Grid = A better environment, job creation and increased competitiveness from the availability of low-cost, clean energy.

Several Committee members questioned why interregional transmission is not being built and what needs to change.

In response to a question from Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), Soholt said, “We need to work on the pieces, not only the infrastructure but the approval processes, the construction of lines, we need to tackle all of the pieces in order to have all of the benefits that flow from the Macro Grid.”

In a frank exchange with Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA) on the lack of progress in building across the seams, Soholt offered specific suggestions.

Click above to watch Beth Soholt respond to Representative Brownley’s questioning.

“We need to do a couple of things. We need some additional good direction from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on transmission planning across the seams. We have a big challenge right now with connecting the various power pools together to be able to plan and permit and build transmission across those seams, and the real benefit of doing that is we’re going to be able to deliver savings and cost-effective clean energy for customers. It’s all about the customer savings as well as the environment.”

Soholt noted that Congress can help by working with the states to better understand how we can tackle some of the routing issues and cost allocation policies.

“It’s a challenging dilemma to solve, but the benefits are so great for the Macro Grid.”

Soholt made a compelling case, and an increasing number of lawmakers are clearly starting to listen.