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California could one day meet its energy needs with solar power from Arizona’s deserts or hydropower from the Pacific Northwest under a $20 billion federal project to improve long-distance power transmission that was launched this month.

Recently the U.S. Department of Energy introduced the “Building a Better Grid” initiative to build or upgrade high-capacity power transmission lines across the country. The project, which will be funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is intended to improve energy reliability and cut costs, while linking renewable energy in parts of the country that produce it to other states that need it.

The Power On Act, introduced by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, was included in the infrastructure act and is part of that grid upgrade. It aims to speed construction of interstate power lines.

That could help California connect to solar farms or hydroelectric plants, Peters said. At the top of the list is a plan called the Ten West Link that aims to link electrical substations in Tonopah, Ariz. to Blythe, Calif.

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“It could potentially provide more product and more power for Southern California,” Peters said. “The state is fairly well interconnected. Even power we could get from hydro in Oregon and Washington would be helpful. Anything we could get would be helpful for efficiency and redundancy.”

The expanded transmission network would help address intermittent energy demands, Peters said, such as the fluctuations in energy use at different times a day, by importing power during peak times.

And the ability to draw energy from other states could provide lifelines during emergencies, he said.

“For resiliency it would help to deal with hurricanes, the Dixie Wildfire, the Texas freeze,” he said. “With respect to renewables, it’s great to create a lot of solar energy, but if you can’t get it to Detroit, Detroit is still going to be using coal.”

Connecting San Diego to areas that produce abundant solar power and other renewable energy could be key to hitting the county’s target of net carbon zero by or before 2045. San Diego County government officials are creating a decarbonization plan that aims to eliminate the region’s dependence on fossil fuels by expanding use of renewable energy and by converting buildings and transportation systems to electric power.

A November technical report on the decarbonization plan explored the potential for solar and wind power within San Diego County. There are enough sites to produce that electricity, particularly in backcountry areas of East County, the report concluded.

But there are environmental trade-offs to some of those locations, including disruption to sensitive ecological areas and a loss of agricultural land, and the development of solar farms means less land that could otherwise capture carbon in plants and soil. Importing power from other states could avoid some of those drawbacks.

Peters’ bill aims to speed development of those new transmission projects by enabling the federal government to step in if states aren’t moving fast enough to authorize key power lines.

“We created a permitting process that’s a little more streamlined,” he said. “We said we’ll give you a year, but if you can’t agree within a year, the federal government will come in and issue the permit.”

More than 70 percent of the nation’s grid transmission lines and power transformers are more than 25 years old, Peters said, making it important to update them to withstand the pressures of climate change and extreme weather events.

As more renewable energy projects come on line, it’s more important to build systems that can move that power where its needed, Peters said, adding that the eventual goal is to create a national power grid.

“There’s a ton of wind in Texas; there’s a ton of hydro in the Northwest,” he said. “There’s geothermal in the desert in California …. Offshore wind being built in New England and here. A lot of that power is able to be moved around. The wind is blowing all the time, and Texas can’t use it all the time, so that can be shipped to different places.”

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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