[IN-DEPTH] Southwest needs power lines to become solar hub

In this Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 file photo, a worker stands near unfinished solar panel framework at a Mesquite Solar 1 facility under construction in Arlington, Ariz. / Ross D. FRanklin:AP

Existing lines are maxing out, especially as the push intensifies to bring online more renewable energy

By Susan Montoya Bryan

The Associated Press

Pick any stretch of road slicing through the American Southwest. The sun beats down on the asphalt like nowhere else and heat waves distort the landscape.

It’s here, in these open expanses, that experts say is a massive untapped source of energy that could meet the nation’s growing needs. But only if developers can get it out of the desert.

Even as renewable power projects get a boost from the federal government, a lack of transmission lines prevent states such as New Mexico — where the sun shines more than 300 days a year — from converting the obvious potential into real watts that can charge smartphones and run air conditioners thousands of miles away.

Aside from Phoenix, the nation’s sixth largest city, and Las Vegas, which glows around the clock, the region’s rural stretches — the ideal places for acres of solar panels — have few energy demands. And sending solar power from there to population centers isn’t as simple as loading coal into boxcars and shipping it cross country.

“We have incredible renewable energy resources,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said during a visit earlier this year to a solar research lab in New Mexico. “The bad news is they’re where there are not many people. We need a distribution system that can accommodate that.”

Transmission lines are key to developing the region’s solar resources. The problem is existing lines are maxing out, especially as the push intensifies to bring online more renewable energy. Building new lines can take years or even decades of cutting through a tangle of bureaucracy.

Continued: 

If interested in discussing energy matters, you can contact Court Rich, director of Rose Law Group’s Renewable Energy Implementation Department, crich@roselawgroup.com

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