President Should Set Transmission Reform as Top Energy Goal

Although the energy goals mentioned during his recent State of the Union address were laudable, President Obama must now turn attention to the improvement of our nation’s electric transmission system. Upgrading and expanding clean energy transmission will create jobs, spur new industries, and lead to a more-sustainable future for rural America.


The President’s energy agenda covered the basics, calling for an “all-of-the-above” domestic energy strategy, utilizing off-shore oil deposits and natural gas pockets, all while promising to ensure the safety of civilians with improved regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

 

President Obama was right to target hoary oil subsidies that inhibit the adoption of clean energy, and advocated a “doubling-down” of American effort in renewables like wind and solar. However, with only the briefest mention of transmission upgrades, he didn’t address a fundamental issue--and opportunity--that rural America faces.


Overhauling existing lines and building new ones will require tremendous capital, yet the direct and indirect financial benefits are mammoth: “Every $1 billion of U.S. transmission investment supports approximately 13,000 full-time equivalent years of employment.”

 

This is about more than numbers: to repair existing lines, junction boxes and transformers; construction and maintenance crews will be put to work. Erecting towers for new transmission cables will require immense planning, engineering, and community engagement. Many rural areas are sitting on a fortune in untapped wind energy resources, underdeveloped only because of stifling bottlenecks in our current system. Often remotely located, these rural communities can connect to the larger network with new electric lines, creating market accessibility for their wind energy.

 

Furthermore, improved transmission diminishes the need for energy storage options, since the electricity can be transported more efficiently from places of abundance to areas of need. System improvements will create jobs today while building a robust framework for tomorrow..


Improving and expanding transmission is non-partisan and resource-neutral: all energy sources are treated equally over the copper wires. Regions rich in wind-resources will benefit from increased transmission, but so will solar, geothermal, and hydropower efforts. Renewable energy, the lifeblood of a sustainable future, is ready to flow; we must now improve the veins and arteries of our electrical grid to bring economic life to rural areas.


President Obama is correct in understanding that energy is closely linked to the economy and health of our nation, and his administration’s efforts are commendable. But the focus should be on our transmission system: the short- and long-term benefits are too bountiful to put off any longer.