Solar and wind energy are essential for supplying more electric power to the grid. But there is another obstacle that currently is limiting how much clean energy gets onto the grid. There is a long queue waiting for permission to connect to the high voltage transmission lines that bring electricity from the site of generation to the local distribution network.
Nationwide, “Getting the okay to connect (to the grid) has gotten harder and harder. According to Rand’s research, between 2000 and 2010 it took around two years for a project to make it through the queue. Now, it’s taking almost twice as long. At the end of 2021, there were 8,100 projects sitting in line, waiting for permission to get connected. Together, they represent more than the combined power capacity of all U.S. electricity plants.” (from the December 20, 2022 Washington Post).
In California, applications for grid connections are handled by CAISO (California Independent System Operators). In 2021, CAISO received 373 applications, over three times more than the average over the prior decade, and many more applications are expected each year as the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) demands more reserve power requirements to prevent rolling blackouts. Independent analysts believe that CAISO needs to add personnel and expedite review to shorten the wait time for approval.
State Senate Bill 420 was introduced in March 2023 to make it easier and quicker to build the estimated 15,000 miles of new transmissions lines California will need in the next 30 years to modernize its power grid. It would end duplicate reviews by CAISO and the CPUC, and impose time limits to resolve legal challenges to new projects.
More transmission lines alone will not solve the connection problem. Local generation projects (from microgrids to large scale local solar generation) need to be built, and the CPUC needs to adjust the utility charges for transmission to take into account the distance involved. Currently, the rate is equivalent to paying $100 to drive on a toll road whether you are driving 10 miles or 1000 miles. Insane, but true.