While climate legislation has not yet come to pass, we know major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be a reality. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), for example, sets a long-term target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions of more than 80% by 2050. To meet the renewable energy and emissions reductions goals of H.R. 2454, we will need all the renewable energy we can get, at least cost. This is not an either/or choice.

The changes in our energy system needed to reach that goal are profound. We need to begin planning today to reach those reductions by 2050, and one thing is clear: We cannot deliver that much low-carbon energy without changes to the grid. Low-carbon electricity will be expected to power not only our homes and businesses, but also an increasing portion of our vehicle fleet. The system we have today for planning, permitting, and financing transmission lines was not designed to respond quickly to a challenge of this magnitude – moving many thousands of megawatts of renewable energy from remote areas to load centers.

It is not obvious today what specific changes will be needed to support the coming transformation of the U.S. electricity system. What is obvious is that we need a planning system that identifies what is needed in the national interest, and a regulatory structure that allows those projects to get built in a timely way – whether that means long-distance cross-country lines, offshore collector systems, or a combination of local renewables, demand reduction, and transmission.

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