The operator of the Midwest’s electrical grid on Monday approved a $10.3 billion upgrade of power transmission systems across nine states, including Michigan — an attempt to build a smarter, more interconnected and nimble power grid ready to better accommodate renewable energy.
The directors of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, a nonprofit organization representing nearly 200 power generators and transmitters across the region, on Monday unanimously approved a collection of 18 projects spanning its Midwest subregion, including more than 2,000 miles of new transmission lines. Called “Tranche 1,” it’s the largest portfolio of long-range transmission projects in US history for a regional transmission organization of its kind.
“The MISO grid is undergoing transformative change … moving from legacy fossil-fuel plants to intermittent renewable resources,” MISO spokesperson Brandon Morris said. “This change is placing a stress on the transmission system and creating the need to move power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.”
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Michigan projects: More than 100 miles of new power line
Two of the 18 projects proposed are in Michigan, involving 110 miles of new line construction and 95 miles of existing line upgrades, at a cost of about $1 billion. New transmission capabilities would be extended from northern Indiana to an as-yet unspecified location in northern Calhoun County. The second project would extend transmission lines from Oneida Township west of Lansing to Gratiot County in the central Lower Peninsula.
Tranche 1 extends transmission lines into the plains of North and South Dakota, Iowa and north Missouri, tapping into some of North America’s best wind energy potential.
The projects are “desperately needed” now, said Charles Marshall, vice president of planning for ITC, which owns the majority of transmission assets in the Lower Peninsula and which would build and operate the Michigan lines proposed in Tranche 1.
“When the wind stops blowing, when the sun is not shining immediately in the state of Michigan, how do you preserve reliability, and resiliency, and keep the lights on?” he asked.
“You do that by having a transmission system that can deliver those generation resources from afar, that are removed from our Michigan load.”
A shift for Michigan’s power sources
It’s a departure from longstanding practice, Marshall said.
“Historically, you would build Michigan generation to serve Michigan load, and that worked, and that was the system that we had for the last 100 years,” he said. “But on a going-forward basis, what we recognize is that you need geographic diversity. You need access to those resources removed from the state of Michigan on a real-time basis, so when they are actively generating, we can deliver that generation to the state of Michigan.”
Project costs are spread across the entire MISO subregion. According to the organization’s estimates, the resulting benefits are projected to outweigh costs by a 2.2-to-1 ratio: utilities meeting their decarbonization goals, capital costs avoided through fewer local energy projects, reduced congestion and fuel savings and other benefits.
The Tranche 1 projects may extend into the 2030s before completion, with state-level permitting and local sitting processes required. MISO proposes to use existing power line corridors and rights of a way where possible to potentially expedite the process.
Advocates for increased renewable energy to combat climate change applauded MISO’s approval of Tranche 1. MISO staff noted that their queue of waiting solar projects totals nearly 56 gigawatts of potential generation — enough to power about 40 million homes. The high costs associated with bringing the energy into the grid often holds projects back.
‘This is going to unleash clean energy’
“We’re excited about this — this is going to unleash clean energy,” said Toba Pearlman, renewable energy advocate and senior attorney for the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The regional transmission lines will start to expand those energy highways and allow more clean energy to come online — and there’s a lot of clean energy waiting to come online, because it’s cheaper, businesses want it, governments want it.”
James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, called the Tranche 1 approval “a significant step toward building the modern, resilient and reliable electric transmission system necessary to decarbonize the energy sector.”
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“MISO’s approval of the Tranche 1 projects will prevent 400 million metric tons of carbon emissions between 2030 and 2050 and allow for updates that the power grid has needed for a long time. These investments are a crucial and cost-effective way to enable MISO states , utilities and customers to achieve their clean energy goals.”
As older coal plants are retiring and utilities are looking to bring more wind and solar power online, the new transmission lines will facilitate power-sharing between states, Gignac said.
“For Michigan, the set of lines come from Iowa and northern Missouri, through Illinois, Indiana and into Michigan. So that will enable wind power from those places to flow through to Michigan when it’s needed. And vice-versa; when Michigan has available power, it can transfer to those states when they need it,” he said. “It will allow a cleaner, more reliable system, and also produce tremendous cost savings for ratepayers.”
Officials with Michigan’s two largest utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — both MISO members — expressed approval for the concept behind the Tranche 1 projects. But Consumers Energy Spokesperson Brian Wheeler indicated ongoing diligence will be required to ensure what’s best for Michigan ratepayers.
“The projects approved by MISO are regional power lines that span multiple states — it’s important that Michiganders get maximum value from MISO’s transmission plans to protect our residents from unnecessarily subsidizing other states’ projects that provide little, if any, benefit to Michigan,” he said.
MISO is planning future tranches of projects that will further prepare the Midwest for bolder renewable energy transition; upgrade MISO’s southern region, which stretches to the Gulf of Mexico; and then ultimately better connect the Southern and Midwest regions for improved energy-sharing.
“We have a lot of wind power in MISO North states, and a huge opportunity for solar in MISO South,” Gignac said. “That will lead to even greater abilities to share low-cost renewables in a mix of wind and solar power, and allow the two regions to support each other as we move into a clean energy future.”
ITC will now begin a permit process with the Michigan Public Service Commission to enable the Tranche 1 Michigan projects.
“These are something that we honestly could have used here in 2022,” Marshall said. “The quicker that we can expedite this, the sooner we can start, the sooner we can start delivering value to customers through these backbone infrastructure projects.”
Contact Keith Matheny: email@example.com.