Center for American Progress

Assuring Low-Carbon Outcomes on a Clean-Energy Smart Grid
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Assuring Low-Carbon Outcomes on a Clean-Energy Smart Grid

Without some provisions to ensure that clean-energy development will be the result of new power transmission, large new investment in transmission by relieving bottlenecks in traditional power generation could as a result actually increase carbon emissions.

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The planning process for a smart grid is designed to identify new transmission projects that will advance the nation’s renewable energy and climate stewardship agendas by making adequate transmission resources available to support massive new investments in renewable electricity generation.

Yet without some provisions to ensure that clean-energy development will be the result, large new investment in transmission by relieving bottlenecks in traditional power generation could as a result actually increase carbon emissions. “Wired for Progress” proposes the use of a carbon-based interconnection standard for generation interconnecting to new renewable energy feeder lines built using these authorities.

Another approach has been advanced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who proposes in his legislation that 75 percent of the capacity on new transmission facilities would have to be made available to renewable energy. Assurance could also be achieved through regulation of electricity generation through a Renewable Energy Standard or the establishment of a carbon cap on electricity supply. In theory, it would be best to regulate environmental performance of new generation at the power plant level, not through controlling access to the grid.

But because these new grid policies could directly lead to an increase in pollution resulting from power plants, some mechanism for assurance of low-carbon attributes is warranted as a part of any new transmission legislation. Such a policy, however, should recognize that renewable generation development may occur in tandem with new gas generation to address renewable intermittency concerns, and would likely require some new fossil-fired generation be developed on the lines. In addition, these restrictions could be designed to sunset once a sector-wide federal carbon cap was in place.

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