Boosting Michigan’s Energy Future with Regional Transmission Upgrades

July 25, 2022 | 2:35 pm
in this low-angle photo of a power transmission tower, a blue sky is visible and in the foreground, a white power transmission tower connected to power linesJinyang Liu/Unsplash
James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

Today, the regional entity overseeing much of the electric power grid in the Midwest—the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO)—approved a set of major new transmission system upgrades that will bring billions of dollars in benefits to the region while better enabling states and utilities to pursue transitions to clean energy.

See here for my colleague Sam Gomberg’s excellent post explaining the background and details on what is known as “Tranche 1” of MISO’s long range transmission planning process. This much-needed set of 18 projects will improve electricity reliability, address overloaded wires, and help unlock more lower-cost wind and solar power to replace costly, polluting fossil fuel plants in Michigan and many other states in the Midwest (including Illinois and Minnesota).

The 18 projects approved by MISO in Tranche 1 address reliability needs in the Upper Midwest while helping ensure utilities can transition from older, more expensive-to-run coal plants to cleaner, affordable wind and solar power. Source: MISO.

What’s in it for Michigan?

Several of the Tranche 1 projects will help improve power flows from west to east, including plentiful wind power from Iowa and northern Missouri into Illinois, northern Indiana, and Michigan. The projects will also allow Michigan to transfer more electricity to other areas when it’s available and needed. This is important because our electric grid is interconnected across the region, and the ability to better share power between states reduces the risk of temporary power outages while allowing lower-cost resources to reach customers where they are.

As part of developing the Tranche 1 proposals, MISO analyzed both the costs and the benefits of the project portfolio. Overall, MISO estimates that the 18 projects represent nearly $10.5 billion in new transmission system investments, the costs of which will be spread across zones 1–7 shown in the map below.

The benefits, however, significantly outweigh the costs—according to MISO’s projections, Tranche 1 will provide ratepayers in the region between $37 and $96 billion in total benefits by improving reliability, addressing congestion on transmission lines, enabling more lower-cost wind and solar power to reach consumers, and cutting heat-trapping carbon emissions through reduced use of expensive coal and gas plants.

Within MISO, there are multiple “zones” used for analyzing transmission cost allocation, two of which cover Michigan—Zone 7 is the Lower Peninsula and Zone 2 is the Upper Peninsula and parts of Wisconsin. Source: MISO.

Here’s how the benefit-cost proposition breaks down for Zone 7 (Michigan’s Lower Peninsula) and Zone 2 (Upper Peninsula and parts of Wisconsin):

Additionally, the renewable advocacy organization Clean Grid Alliance estimates that MISO’s Tranche 1 projects will enable more than 8,300 megawatts of new solar and wind development in Michigan’s Zone 7—enough to power more than 1.7 million homes and create more than 34,000 jobs. For Zone 2, Clean Grid Alliance calculates 3,600 megawatts of renewable development that can power 775,000 homes and create 14,000 jobs.

Transmission upgrades support Michigan’s clean energy and climate goals

Michigan’s MI Healthy Climate Plan calls for 60 percent of the state’s electricity needs to come from renewable resources, and for utilities to phase out all coal-fired power plants by 2030. Under Consumers Energy’s recently approved long-term resource plan, the utility’s remaining coal plants will be retired by 2025 as part of the company’s goal to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2040. DTE aims to reduce its carbon pollution by 50 percent by 2028, and is preparing its own updated resource plan due in October. Both utilities are planning significant increases in solar power over the next several years to complement Michigan’s existing wind facilities.

As Michigan moves into its clean energy future, transmission upgrades like those in MISO’s Tranche 1 are important not only for facilitating the transition but also for keeping our power grid stable and reliable while saving ratepayers money.

What’s next?

MISO’s Tranche 1 projects will next proceed to state processes for further evaluation and siting and permitting review. Although 90 percent of the projects in Tranche 1 can be located along or adjacent to existing transmission lines, it is critical that Michigan and other states conduct an inclusive and accessible process to hear from communities that may be affected by the projects.

The Tranche 1 projects show the benefits to Michigan and ratepayers across the Midwest of investing in our electric grid. But for MISO, the long-range transmission planning process has only just begun—the grid operator must proceed more quickly to additional phases required to build the modern transmission infrastructure we need for states and utilities to achieve their clean energy goals. Let’s celebrate today’s smart investments, and keep working toward a healthier, safer, more affordable electricity future.