Connect the Dots: Transmission and Rural Communities

Modernizing our transmission grid represents a major potential source of job creation. By some estimates, transmission investment in the United States will range from $12 billion to $16 billion annually through 2030.

Every $1 billion of US transmission investment supports approximately 13,000 full-time years of employment. So over a 20-year period, 150,000 to 200,000 full-time years of employment could be created annually simply by updating and expanding our electric grid.

Over one-third of the jobs will be supported directly by domestic construction, engineering, and transmission component manufacturing activities. Approximately 125 operations and maintenance positions are created per $1 billion of transmission additions, in many cases providing employment throughout the life of the project.

As in the case of renewable energy development, these jobs pay well. Annual wages associated with construction of power lines and related structures average $65,300 compared with an average of $33,760 across all industries. Once this money is invested in the local community – attracting new businesses, new residents, and new investment – the economic output impacts everyone to a tune of $30 billion to $40 billion per year.

While these numbers look good in the abstract, let’s consider projects currently underway. For example, an additional 520 full-time operating and maintenance jobs will be created in Wyoming once construction of a proposed transmission expansion is completed. Clean Line Energy is expecting that approximately 5,000 temporary construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs will be created once construction of their 500 mile, 500-kv Rock Island transmission line begins.

Though frequently overlooked, tax revenue generated by transmission projects has the potential to reduce the deficit while supporting local schools and businesses. The CapX2020 project, a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region, is expected to generate federal and state tax revenues of between $92 and $52 million, respectively.

Additional benefits will be realized by the average ratepayer. Improved transmission increases competition in power markets while enhancing reliability and minimizing congestion. This translates to reduced transmission losses and production cost savings, wholesale price reductions, and an ability to diversify generation.

In some cases, strategically placing a new transmission line is enough to avoid the construction of additional fossil fuel generating facilities altogether. Within the same interconnection, improving transmission in one region will likely increase reliability in another. Further benefits will be realized by diversifying a region’s generation portfolio, thereby decreasing the wholesale price of electricity.

The most significant benefits, however, will be realized when people are involved in construction and development of not only transmission projects, but also the renewable energy developments which are possible as a result. Over 275,000 MW of new wind projects remain unconnected due to a lack of available transmission. Opening the door to a new generation of renewable energy projects will bring opportunity to rural communities across the nation.

For more information or to comment, contact Johnathan Hladik, johnathanh@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 ext. 1020.