Electric Transmission

Deregulation of the electric power industry has made public acceptance of transmission even harder to achieve. Economic competition is transforming the old “compact” among consumers, utilities and state regulators. Until recently, this compact guaranteed an equitable balance between the risks of building new facilities – broadly defined as their perceived impact on the public’s quality of life – and the benefits of improving local service. As more and more projects are tailored to meet the needs of distant customers, however, or to fulfill strategic business objectives in a deregulated marketplace, community opposition has inevitably begun to rise.

Recent public discussion of high-voltage transmission has been subsumed within broader policy debates about reducing greenhouse gases, moving renewable energy over long distances and redesigning our nation’s overall electric system. New players – including national environmental groups, academics, Washington think tanks, trade associations and renewable power generators – now play a major role in shaping public debate about transmission siting and need.

The implications of this trend for project developers are significant. Increasingly, the best site will often be the one that local stakeholders (grassroots groups, public officials and environmental organizations) agree to let them to build on, not necessarily the one that lies closest to existing gas and power lines. As good plant locations become harder to find, developers who anticipate and minimize conflict will hold a vital strategic advantage over their competitors. As a result, success in the emerging marketplace will often depend as much on earning community support for new facilities as it does on producing electricity at the right time or price.(Robert Wasserstrom and Susan Reider, “Electric Transmission and Carbon Reduction: A Survey of Environmental Leaders and State Regulators,” Terra Group Special Report, Hershey, 2010.)