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NRDC: Midwest grid operator plan is blocking clean energy

ITC Michigan

Updated 2:07 p.m. 02/04/2021

The Natural Resources Defense Council says the Midwest energy grid operator known as MISO hasn't planned enough interstate transmission lines.

MISO manages the system of utilities and transmission lines that operate in a wide region, from Manitoba, Canada to Louisiana.

John Moore is a senior attorney with the Council.  He says MISO for too long has approved numerous local transmission projects, but only a tiny number of interstate transmission lines - which operate much like interstate highways, moving energy, rather than vehicles,  from state to state.

He says MISO needs to plan more aggressively to meet the economic and environmental needs of the region.

Credit MISO
MISO footprint

"If we let business as usual take its course, then MISO may not be as bold as it needs to be," he says.

Moore says the lack of interstate transmission capacity is leaving clean energy projects on the table. 

That includes 42 clean energy proposals in Michigan since 2016 that were unable to proceed, because the existing transmission system couldn't handle them.

He says those projects would have created more than 8,500  jobs in Michigan, and says the Governors and legislators in states like Michigan that have zero carbon goals should consider asking MISO to do more.

"I don't think people fully appreciate MISO's role in the economic engine in the Midwest," says Moore, "as either an enabler or an inhibitor."

In a statement MISO said,  "MISO’s Long Range Transmission Planning effort serves as a roadmap to guide the optimization of near-term needs compatible with long-term drivers. It is designed to assess the region’s future transmission needs holistically, adapt to changes and enable MISO to facilitate the region’s transition to a clean energy future."

MISO's directives to build more transmission capacity are issued to energy infrastructure companies like ITC Michigan, which recently completed a loop of transmission lines in the thumb of Michigan.  The loop is capable of handling what's estimated to be the maximum MW of wind energy that's feasible for the region.

ITC spokesperson Bob Doetsch says the company agrees there is an urgent need for additional interstate transmission projects to connect more renewable energy to the greater grid in Michigan and neighboring states.  

We commend MISO on its long-range transmission planning effort now underway, which aims to speed up the interconnection process for renewable energy. This current regional plan follows a number of MISO-supported transmission projects that have been completed in Michigan and other Midwest states in recent years to address the rapidly changing energy generation landscape. Also, with President Biden’s goal of decarbonizing the U.S. electricity sector by 2035, high-voltage transmission infrastructure should take center stage as the enabler of this ambitious undertaking.”

Correction:  This article was corrected to indicate that 42 clean energy projects were not built since 2016 in Michigan, rather than in 2016.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.