Taking Transmission Back in Time
As we bat around the potential of all electric, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen battery and other possible automotive technologies, its worth noting that once upon a time, almost all of the vehicles on the road ran on…water.
Those were the days of the Stanley Steamer, and automotive technology is – in some ways – just coming back to complete the circle.
Electric transmission might be taking the same trip back in time. NYT linked through to a Climate Wire story that highlights the resurgence of direct current (DC) transmission line construction. The vast majority of transmission is on alternating current (AC), but the story recounts that DC was Edison’s preference: “…it’s all I’ll fool with.”
Today, utilities are turning to DC for three big reasons: on long-running lines DC is more efficient, the power itself doesn’t get “lost” in the AC mix, and the lines don’t present any of the electromagnetic field concerns that often cause concern for abutters (and the towers can be built smaller to boot!).
There is a joint US utility/Canadian hydro line that has just been blessed by FERC for its financing structure. That line will be DC, allowing the utilities on the buying end and the generator on the selling end to direct the contracted power directly to the load. Incidentally, that FERC blessing was not assured since the proponents are pursuing a participant-funded payment scheme instead of standard ratepayer allocation, thus avoiding the ISO market. With the addition of the DC technology, this model does raise some questions for me…what will FERC and ISOs do if a model like this emerges in more projects and essentially circumvents a lot of the open access transmission rules that deregulation put in place.
Perhaps the most immediate impact though is in the EMF mitigation. With public opposition being what it is, see this other WSJ story citing “gridlock” in getting projects permitted and sited — mitigation of the EMF risk could be a competitive advantage that transmission developers could offer regulators and communities as they compete with other proposed projects.
DC may actually complicate another common opposition concern: that the line has no benefit for those it passes because the facility is at one end of the line and the power is going to the other with a huge tower, high voltage lines and no real benefit accruing to those who live along/under the lines. The DC construction would amount to what the Climatewire story quotes one of the utility execs calling an “extension cord,” and makes it clear to transmission project abutters that their burden is explicitly to someone’s else’s benefit.
[photo credit: Universal Studios]
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