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Grid planning, renewables go hand-in-hand, officials say

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Grid planning, renewables go hand-in-hand, officials say

Investmentin the electric transmission grid is key to enabling the continued developmentof renewable energy resources in the U.S., according to utility and renewableenergy officials.

At theBloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York City on April 4, executivesfrom National Grid USA,E.ON Climate & Renewablesand First Solar Inc.took part in a conversation about the transformation of the energy industry andspoke of the importance transmission investment has and will continue to playin developing and delivering renewables.

"It'shard to see us meeting the public policy goals we're going to have in thiscountry around renewable energy and clean resources if we don't bring theselarger-scale, remote clean sources to the markets that need them," saidRudolph Wynter, president and COO National Grid's FERC regulated businesses.

Wyntersaid a focus of National Grid is on green transmission. Part of that focusinvolves National Grid's investmentin Clean Line Energy Partners, which is developing the 700-mile Plains andEastern transmission line. That project is intended to transmit up to 4,000 MWfrom wind farms in the Oklahoma Panhandle through Arkansas to Tennessee.The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced it has decided to in that project.

Wynteralso said transmission investment drivers are changing. Five to 10 years ago,reliability needs and congestion relief drove capital expenditures. But lookingahead over that same time period, CapEx is being driven by linking uprenewables, as seen in the company's investment in Clean Line and plans tobring firm renewables into New England.

E.ONClimate and Renewables CEO Michael Lewis said proper planning of thetransmission grid for future renewable energy growth is important. "Preferablythe grid anticipates where the green energy is going to be built, because it'sbetter to have grid underutilized than projects that can't export their power,"he said.

Lewissaid central planning will enable renewables to be built in the most efficientplaces. A good example in the U.S. is the Texas Competitive Renewable EnergyZone, or CREZ, effort. That effort was designed to addtransmission capacity to Texas' energy grid, largely to link wind-rich areas ofthe state with population centers in the east. "We've seenwhat can be done in Texas with the CREZ in terms of bringing new areas onto thetransmission system and thereby bringing new opportunities for wind projects,"he said.

FirstSolar CEO Jim Hughes also pointed to the Texas CREZ initiative as a goodexample of planning and echoed earlier remarks about the importance of gridplanning. "To the extent a market [or] a regulator wants toenable renewable penetration — and enable that penetration on a cost-effectivebasis — they need to have strategic grid investments in place," he said.