Want Wind? Build Transmission!

China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.” That was the headline in the New York Times blog Green a year ago as the press office of China’s Government made sure the world understood nothing would stand in China’s way to be the world’s energy leader.

AWEA and the other wind worriers here in the US used that story to press the administration to step up and adopt a national renewable energy standard to force the recalcitrant states to set renewable energy targets to keep the momentum going for wind—OK, OK solar can come along for the ride too but the wind worriers don’t really like falling PV panel prices seeing it as trying to steal their date at the wind party.

Well not even the mother of all guilt trips laid on a Congress unwilling to pass cap and trade legislation would get a national RES standard adopted as the consolation prize.  So the wind worriers had to make do with an extension of their 30% treasury tax grant program.

Fast forward a year, and buried in the back pages of China.org.cn is a February 16th story that half of China’s wind turbines are idle because they lack the transmission to get their output to market from their remote locations. The consequence is 2.8 billion kilowatt-hours lost in the first six months of 2010 because of the same transmission congestion and bottlenecks we face here in the United States.  No wonder export of China’s wind turbine factories is up—at least for a while.

China has set a non-fossil energy goal of 15 percent of energy consumed by 2020, but wind power is expected to be only 2 percent and solar 1 percent or the rest is going to come from hydropower or nuclear energy and China is building plenty of that too.  But even that new power generation is going to require more transmission capacity to bring its output to market so China’s State Grid said it will increase spending during the 12th Five-Year Plan period from 2011 to 2015 from 20 billion yuan in the last plan to more than 500 billion yuan ($75.86 billion) to overcome some of the grid deficiencies and bring new capacity to market.

Compare that to the US where recently the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated he FERC decisions designating nation interest electric transmission corridors from the 2007 DOE Congestion Study saying FERC failed to follow the NEPA environmental procedures because it failed to do an environmental impact study on every reasonable transmission project that might cure the congestion trouble spots.

Around the world we are learning that if we want to expand our market share of clean energy sources or live into the promise of smart grid we must deal with the transmission shortages necessary to make it happen.  This is true in the American Southwest and Mid Atlantic regions where the NIETC corridors were to point the way toward better transmission capacity.  But it is also true in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang Uygur region and Gansu province rich in resources but far from the markets that need them.