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Electric Power System
by Mandate, Not Design

by Editorial Board
Capital Press, December 15, 2022

By 2050, Washington will import 43% of its electricity from other states
with more wind, primarily Montana and Wyoming

A segment of BPA's utility lines where groups are asking that a transmission fee be dropped (Jeff Fox photo), What happens when electrical power generation and distribution systems are mandated by politicians, instead of designed by engineers?

We're about to find out as the states of the West Coast rush to adopt sweeping mandates aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Washington state has pushed ahead of the pack, adopting the main canons of the Green New Deal, passing laws intended to halve the state's greenhouse gas output by 2030 and achieve net-zero output by 2050.

According to the state's Commerce Department's energy strategy, to meet its goals all sectors of the economy must rapidly cut emissions.

It will be a big lift.

The state admits that the strategy rests on many solutions that "are not yet widely deployed." That means electric cars and trucks -- virtually a wholesale turnover of the current fleet of private and business vehicles. It will cost Washingtonians untold millions.

And because some might resist, the strategy requires education and "behavioral changes" -- changes on your behavior. You need to be taught to drive less, and to appreciate the benefits of electric vehicles.

The strategy also states that reliance on "advanced technology is unavoidable" -- wind turbines, solar panels and batteries.

Wind and solar are intermittent -- the sun doesn't shine at night, the wind doesn't always blow. The U.S. Department of Energy says that these facilities meet their full output just 30% of the time.

Their footprint is huge. All told, the DOE says that it takes 7 acres to site each megawatt of solar electricity. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimates Washington will need to add 12,000 megawatts of solar power by 2050.

Using those estimates, solar facilities for that output would require 84,000 acres. In Washington, those 84,000 acres are now productive fields and grazing land.

The state suggests one solution for intermittency and land issues -- buying green power produced in other states. The strategy says that by 2050, Washington will import 43% of its electricity from other states with more wind, primarily Montana and Wyoming.

Easy-peasy. Let Montana and Wyoming overcome the objections of landowners, and build enough capacity to serve the needs of others.

No matter if the power is generated in Washington's eastside, or in other states, power companies will have to build hundreds of miles of new transmission lines to get that electricity to the heavily populated Puget Sound area.

Siting and building transmission lines costs millions of dollars per mile and can take anywhere from 10 to 20 years.

All of this to impact 0.2% of world carbon emissions.

We think the state's mandates and strategy depend on a certain amount of magical thinking. It rests on technology that produces electricity only under optimal conditions, even as it pushes demand for electricity. It mandates strict deadlines.

It seems the state -- and all states pushing similar measures -- should have consulted engineers before passing its mandates.

Editorial Board
Electric Power System by Mandate, Not Design
Capital Press, December 15, 2022

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