Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



It is impossible to talk about developing renewable energy resources in the United States without also talking about developing electric transmission infrastructure. More specifically, the transmission-planning strategies that may have worked in the past are no longer effective to integrate new sources of renewable energy into the transmission grid. Transmission lines were historically built to link large stationary power plants to nearby electricity demand centers like cities. For renewable energy, however, state mandates and policies are driving investment in wind-and to a lesser extent solar-energy, creating a need for new transmission lines to link these dispersed resources with electric load centers. Against this backdrop, there is now a complex mix of federal, state, and regional laws, policies, and politics governing both renewable energy goals and transmission planning and siting. These developments have rendered the traditional approach to transmission planning and siting ineffective-and, in some cases, obsolete.

Although members of Congress have introduced bills to create federal renewable energy standards and to create more federal authority over transmission planning to support the growth of renewable energy, most of the action remains at the state level. While there has been significant scholarship on renewable energy siting and development in the United States, there has been less emphasis to date on the transmission challenges associated with the growth of renewable energy. This focus is critical, however, because the success of wind and solar development depends on whether it can get to market cost-effectively, and much of that depends on transmission. In this Article, we consider federal, state, and regional policies governing transmission planning and siting and highlight the challenges and opportunities for further growth. We focus on wind rather than solar or geothermal resources because wind-based electric power generation has grown significantly in recent years.