Electric power transmission and distribution—the process of moving electricity from where it is produced to where it is used—is an essential part of everyday life. The nation’s transmission and distribution systems, also known as the power grid, play a key role in keeping the lights on, heating and cooling homes, charging phones and electric vehicles, and keeping essential services going. We expect the power to always be there, but not having transmission infrastructure to move power from where it is available to where it is needed can cause problems for consumers across the country.
Let’s explore a few ways that a lack of transmission can harm consumers and how our work at the Department of Energy is helping address these challenges.
In areas where there is a significant need for transmission across states or regions, energy prices may be higher because there is not enough transmission to move lower-cost electricity from where it is produced to where it is needed. This leads to consumers paying more than they should for this essential service.
More and Longer Power Outages
A lack of transmission can also mean more frequent power outages, especially during extreme weather. It can also mean longer power outages because there is no backup when part of the system is damaged, so consumers are left waiting for potentially significant repairs to be completed before power can be restored. Power outages can cause a fridge full of food to go bad, can reduce our ability to connect with friends, family, or essential services in times of need, and, in some cases, be life-threatening when the lack of power affects critical medical devices or our ability to stay warm in the winter or cool in the summer. The longer the power outage, the more likely the impact will be devastating for communities and businesses.
Increasing demand for electricity strains aging transmission systems, but replacing aging lines or building new transmission takes time. Developing transmission lines, especially interregional lines, is a lengthy and complicated process, meaning that consumers who may urgently need additional electricity still have to wait years and sometimes decades for system improvements. These long timelines also reduce consumer access to the nation's increasingly diverse low-cost clean energy supply.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to meaningful community engagement as we advance transmission solutions to benefit consumers and ensure that people have reliable, affordable power when and where it is needed. One tool that can address these challenges is the Department of Energy’s designation of National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC), which are geographic areas where the lack of transmission harms consumers. NIETC designations can help guide the use of federal funds for transmission, signal development opportunities to transmission developers and planning entities, and unlock siting and permitting tools for transmission projects in identified areas. Designating these critical areas can help encourage transmission development to advance important national interests, such as increased reliability, access to clean energy, and reduced consumer costs. This week, DOE’s Grid Deployment Office released final guidance for the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor designation process that will be critical in pinpointing areas in the country where consumers are harmed because not enough power lines are getting built. Join us for an informational webinar on January 3, 2024, at 1 p.m. ET.
To learn more about our transmission work at the Grid Deployment Office, check out our Transmission Division.