Connect Blogs

A Railroad Moment for Wind Energy

A few weeks ago, I ran across an article written by Daniel Gross discussing how the wind energy industry is undergoing a fundamental change in approach. As it points out, we are in the middle of a historical moment; that of an industrial revolution and we have a front-row seat.

As a North Dakota resident who hears about the Keystone pipeline on nearly a daily basis, I couldn’t help but be drawn to Gross’s message, which invokes a feeling of nostalgia as well as a sense of historical pride. I love the mental pictures he conjures of an elaborate network of rail and pipeline systems transporting goods and services across the United States, and how electricity can benefit from the same economies of scale.

Although the wind and solar industries have been largely supported by federal subsidies, there is, in fact, an actual unsubsidized market option that has developed as a result of renewable development. It’s an electrical transmission market that is slowly opening up with large infrastructure projects such as those proposed by Clean Line Energy, Abengoa, SunZia and others. Markets proved to be successful by past projects such as the Lone Star Transmission project, part of the CREZ, built by NextEra Energy. Not unlike how the railroad helped open up and drive costs lower for new markets in agriculture, we are now looking at growing markets for cost-effective bulk electricity transport, specifically for renewable generation.

Living in a state with a wide range of resources of coal, gas, oil and wind, it is interesting to dig back to see how past state administrators dealt with these resources. Past North Dakota governor and now United States Senator John Hoeven proposed such an infrastructure initiative (much as the article references) back in 2001. That’s when he spearheaded the EmPower North Dakota group, which supported the vision of infrastructure advancement. The ultimate goal was to promote the many land locked resources contained within North Dakota, using it as the State’s first multiresource state energy policy, integrated into a statewide economic development strategy.

Even today, with growing rail and road infrastructure available, North Dakota still struggles to find the capacity to adequately export all resources that it has to offer. It’s seems clear that opportunities abound for those with a vision to share and the capital to invest.

As I mentioned, it is a fitting tie into the historical work this nation has expended to create an open market to exchange all types of resources. Now, with the push to move us into a new industrial revolution for electrical transmission, it speaks to the level of investment that remains to be made and the opportunities available for future generations.

About the author

Mike is our account executive for the Renewable and Power markets. His responsibilities include serving renewable energy clients throughout the United States as well as utilities located in the western part of the country, and he specializes in developing renewable energy, energy storage and electronic power solutions for his clients. He has more than 10 years of experience as a project and substation engineer. His background encompasses project management, commissioning, protective relaying, SCADA systems, substations and switchyards, conduit and raceway systems, grounding systems, field investigation and testing. From issues and techniques to new technological developments, he keeps you updated on what's happening in clean power generation.