Washington state urgently needs to start planning to transmit wind and solar power across the Cascade Range to Western Washington to meet the state's ambitious clean-energy goals, according to a report sent to legislators this week.
High-voltage power lines can be expected to take 10 to 20 years to site, permit and build, according to the report prepared by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.
Without new capacity to move renewable electricity from east to west, Puget Sound could face shortages as the state's clean-energy law forces westside coal and natural gas plants to close.
By 2045, electricity must be carbon-free, likely requiring Western Washington to import more wind and solar power from Eastern Washington, Montana and Wyoming.
By then, current transmission lines won't meet Puget Sound's demand for electricity on the coldest winter days, Washington Public Utility Districts Association policy director Nicolas Garcia said Nov. 3.
Without speedier approval of transmission projects, "I just don't think there's a prayer to get there," said Garcia, a member of a group convened by EFSEC to work on the report.
"It's very difficult to build anything that someone doesn't object to. How we deal with the objections is the tricky political problem," he said.
The Legislature in 2019 passed the clean-energy law, a priority for the Inslee administration. Lawmakers ordered EFSEC to produce on needed transmission upgrades by the end of 2022.
In meetings involving the Bonneville Power Administration and others, it became evident there was an urgency to begin planning projects, according to EFSEC chairwoman Kathleen Drew.
Washington's demand for electricity is projected to nearly double by 2050 as the population grows, vehicles are electrified and building codes forbid natural gas heating.
Meanwhile, planning for high-voltage transmission lines to meet the increased demand is lagging behind, according to the report.
Like solar panels and windmills, transmission lines could change Eastern Washington's agricultural landscape, Yakima Farm Bureau President Mark Herke said.
"I can see an awful lot of pushback from Eastern Washington," he said.
The report did not identify specific routes for transmission lines, though it stated that new north-south lines will be needed through Western Washington, as well as lines over the Cascades. If off-shore wind projects are built, more transmission lines will be needed.
The EFSEC work group heard presentations on the need, difficulty and expense of upgrading power lines.
Puget Sound Energy estimates it will need three new transmission lines to its service area by 2045. Lines are projected to cost from $1.6 million to $3.6 million per mile, depending on the capacity.
Upgrading old transmission lines will be expensive, too, especially if they were approved prior to the passing of environmental laws, PacifiCorp transmission director Brian Fritz said. "It's almost like you've started from square one."
The report recommends trying to speed up the process for approving transmission lines. The report, though, highlights the difficulty of gaining support, including from tribes
"We have a real mish-mash of players and trying to get them to work in a coordinated fashion is a challenge," Garcia said. "We've got to get going today."
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