A new video shows a specialized Skycrane helicopter lifting a transmission-line tower into place near Roosevelt, Washington. Released by the Department of Energy on its new blog, the work is Big Engineering fun at its best.
But it also shows how difficult it is to lay new miles of transmission. This particular line, the McNary-John Day, will allow hundreds of megawatts of wind power to get to the rest of the state. To lay even thirty miles of line takes months of work and substantial amounts of money. And to really tap the nation's wind resources, it's going to take a lot more than a few miles here of new high-voltage transmission lines here and there.
"[A]nalysis on transmission found that the cost per mile for transmission typically falls between $1.5 to $2.0 million per mile--lines that run underwater or underground can cost significantly more," a Senate Democratic Policy Committee report found. "To simply keep up with demand between 2010 and 2030, nationwide transmission investment will need to reach $300 billion. To provide 20 percent of our nation's electricity from wind, it is estimated that $60 billion in transmission will be needed between now and 2030."
That's exactly the kind of infrastructure investment that private companies are not likely to make and that our government hadn't in recent decades. Investment in transmission infrastructure bottomed in 1998 at about $3 billion a year.