GLEN HOOKS: For the long run

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When it comes to environmental and clean energy efforts, transmission planning is one of the more mysterious but extremely important issues. A solid and well-planned transmission can outweigh or nullify our efforts to maintain grid reliability, integrate more clean and renewable energy, and reduce pollution.

Unfortunately, our region is lagging behind in transmission planning – but it’s not too late to start moving in the right direction.

Arkansas is part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which recently made an extremely important decision when its board approved a plan that will result in the construction of enough renewable energy to power 12 million homes and over 213,000 jobs 11 North to create Midwestern states in the coming decades.

MISO’s first batch of projects in its Long Range Transmission Plan (LRTP) is a historic investment to enable a reliable energy transition across its footprint, but the South in particular has been excluded from this set of projects.

MISO is an organization that facilitates the affordable sharing of power generation resources among many utilities, as opposed to a more restrictive regime of power sharing in non-regional sectors of transmission organizations. In 2013, Louisiana, Southeast Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi joined this resource pool through Entergy, the largest utility company in the four-state region, creating a region called MISO South.

And while membership in this organization has saved taxpayers in these states in these four states more than $1.3 billion, MISO South has missed out on the benefits of MISO’s planning of the grid in the region to provide a more competitive, reliable and create a more resilient system. This is due to a tepid relationship between regulators and MISO, as well as the incumbent utility’s stranglehold on planning the region’s transmission grid.

MISO’s LRTP effort has an important opportunity to address this historic disparity. At a time when climate action is urgently needed, these efforts could play a crucial role in enabling more renewable energy with significant cost savings for consumers. The first batch of projects in the LRTP will save MISO’s North Midwest consumers $2.60 for every dollar spent through a variety of benefits.

However, among those benefits is the assurance that we will have a more reliable energy system with more renewable energy, without sacrificing clean air or the climate for future generations.

We are in Arkansas at a pivotal moment. MISO has proposed planning LRTP projects at MISO South in 2023 and 2024, but without the support of the government’s MISO South public utility commissioners, we could be doomed to a cycle of investments in increasingly expensive power plants and storm repairs for the Underinvested system in the region.

In truth, we need to move even faster to plan the energy transition. With the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s support for the LRTP effort, it’s not too late to change course for MISO South.

Anyone from bird conservation groups like Audubon, who prioritize clean energy, to those who care about cost savings and electrical reliability, can volunteer to support efforts to modernize our region’s electrical transmission system.

We call on our forward-thinking Arkansas Public Service Commission leaders to strongly support intelligent, aggressive LRTP planning in the South and to support it quickly so we can repair the connection between the North and South segments.

It’s good for Arkansas, good for our region, good for taxpayers, and ultimately good for our planet.

Glen Hooks is Policy Manager for Audubon Delta, a regional office of the National Audubon Society for Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Learn more about Audubon’s work in Arkansas at ar.audubon.org.