Navigant Research Blog

Lawsuit Brings Setback for Large-Scale Wind Transmission

— September 1, 2016

Wind and SolarTwo groups representing Arkansas landowners have sued the US Department of Energy (DOE) in an effort to block development of a 700-mile multi-state transmission line intended to carry wind power from the Oklahoma panhandle to consumers in the south and southeast. The Plains & Eastern transmission project, led by independent developer Clean Line Energy Partners, aims to open access to 4,000 MW of wind power; of this, the project would deliver 500 MW to Arkansas consumers while the remaining 3,500 MW would flow through Arkansas to the Tennessee Valley Authority system. The complaint, filed August 15, challenges the DOE’s decision in March of this year to participate in developing the project.

Federal authority over transmission siting is traditionally limited. However, Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the DOE to participate in “designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining, or owning” new transmission facilities and allows the DOE to “accept and use funds contributed by another entity for the purpose of executing the Project.” The DOE’s decision to participate in Plains & Eastern marks the first time it has invoked Section 1222 to enter a public-private partnership for transmission system development. The plaintiffs in the case, however, are challenging the DOE’s interpretation of the statute and its authority to circumvent state transmission siting processes and exercise eminent domain.

Illustration of Clean Line’s Plains & Eastern Transmission Project

Clean Line

(Source: Clean Line Energy Partners)

The lawsuit marks the latest setback for Clean Line, which launched the Plains & Eastern project back in 2009 and is now in its eighth year of pre-construction legwork. It also attests to the difficulty of implementing multi-state transmission projects under the nation’s existing patchwork of transmission systems and state regulations, particularly when each state along a proposed transmission path can exercise de facto veto power by denying permits and rights-of-way. This raises the risk profile of cross-border transmission projects and has complicated efforts to develop wind and solar in regions where the resource potential is strongest rather than where it is most conveniently sited. Unsurprisingly, former FERC chairs Joseph Kelliher and Jon Wellinghoff have both invoked barriers to renewable energy integration when advocating for greater federal control over electricity transmission siting.

Transmission and Renewables

Twenty-nine US states currently have renewable portfolio standards, and if the courts uphold the Clean Power Plan, all states could soon be required to reduce carbon pollution from their power sectors. While distributed energy resources like rooftop solar are on the rise, there is also a case to be made for harnessing large-scale wind and solar at optimal generation sites and transporting that power across long distances to where it is needed.

According to a widely cited study published in January in the journal Nature Climate Change, overhauling the nation’s transmission system with a well-planned network of long-distance high-voltage direct current transmission lines would enable penetration of renewables at a scale that could reduce CO2 emissions from the US power sector by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, and would do so without increasing the levelized cost of electricity. Wind and solar industry groups have issued similar calls for a network of “green power superhighways” to connect renewables from regions where the energy potential is strongest to population centers where demand is greatest.

Yet challenges facing projects like Plains & Eastern suggest transmission upgrades designed to harness large-scale renewables and transport them across states will be difficult to execute in the current regulatory environment. Whether the courts ultimately uphold the DOE’s interpretation of Section 1222 or find in favor of the Arkansas community groups rallying against it could not only seal the fate of Plains & Eastern but also foretell prospects for future interstate transmission projects seeking to open access to large-scale wind and solar power.


How to Select a Winning Solar Provider

— June 2, 2016

Rooftop SolarWith the extension of the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) through 2021, Navigant’s forecast indicates that annually installed commercial and industrial (C&I) solar PV capacity will continue to grow year-over-year through 2022. Because of this, it is especially important to provide resources for the C&I sector to facilitate the decision to go solar. Navigant Consulting has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings Alliance (BBA) for 2 years to promote solar PV for commercial buildings.

Most recently, Navigant supported the development of the 7 Steps to Selecting a Solar Provider guide, which outlines the process of procuring solar PV by issuing a request for proposal (RFP). Learning about solar is the first step, and the BBA’s On-Site Commercial Solar PV Decision Guide provides direction on the key aspects of a commercial solar installation. Defining project goals and provider selection criteria are the next two crucial (and often overlooked) steps that are required in developing an RFP to procure a custom project. If project goals are not clearly defined, solar provider bids will not be able to develop customized proposals, making it very difficult to compare offers. Clearly defining project goals feeds directly into developing a detailed and a well-written RFP. Consistently applying these defined selection criteria to shortlist providers and select an awardee is a key sign of a well-thought-out procurement process.

Solar Provider Selection Process


(Source: Navigant)

To facilitate issuing a well-written RFP, the BBA released the following templates:

Navigant will be soliciting feedback over the course of the next 6 months from solar PV developers and BBA members for this suite of resources. If you have comments regarding how the resources can be expanded or improved upon, please email


Energy Efficient Buildings: The Last Bridge for Bipartisan Cooperation in 2016

— February 16, 2016

HVAC Air conditioning unitsPresident Obama recently released the budget for his final year in office; in his message to Congress, he outlined a few key priorities that could have a significant impact on the intelligent buildings market. There is no doubt that a rocky road lies ahead before these aspirations could become a reality. There are benefits to energy efficiency and intelligent building solutions that could be a cornerstone of some bipartisan compromise in the last year of his administration.

Obama stated that, “The challenge of climate change will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. … Rather than shrinking from the challenge, America must foster the spirit of innovation to create jobs, building a climate-smart economy of the future, and protect the only planet we have.” Energy efficient and intelligent building technologies are effective targets for bipartisan policy development because while they can deliver significant climate impacts, the economic benefits are nonpolitical. It bodes well for the intelligent buildings market if the following line items make it through the difficult negotiation period ahead:

  • An 8% increase in funding between 2015 and 2016 for projects supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
  • $169 million for emerging technologies in the buildings sector

EERE has also released the 2016-2020 program plan, which outlines the goals for technology development, accelerating market adoption, and defining new energy codes and standards. The Building Technologies Office (BTO) has high expectations for energy efficient buildings and its role in market transformation:

  • BTO estimates that by 2020, “accelerated technology development” will lead to cost-effective, energy efficient solutions available that are 30% more efficient than the high efficiency solutions of 2010
  • “BTO’s ultimate goal is reduce the average energy use per square foot in all U.S. buildings by 50% from 2010 levels”

Benchmarking Buildings

Intelligent building technologies have an important role to play in making these federal goals a reality because the information technology backbone can deliver the transparency and accountability to validate and verify the cost savings of energy efficiency. An intelligent building can support the federal budget and policy goals through data collection devices and software analytics (building energy management systems) that provide real-time monitoring of system performance and building utilization. This means that decision makers have the tools to monitor energy costs, measure the savings associated with energy efficiency equipment retrofits, and benchmark performance over time.

Navigant Research recently published a new report on advanced sensors that highlights how these devices are central to monitoring energy efficiency, cost savings, performance improvement, and occupant satisfaction. In just a few weeks, I will join Intel and Lucid to discuss how intelligent building solutions transform data into action for energy savings. Join us for this roundtable webinar discussion and share your thoughts on the role of intelligent buildings and the promise of energy efficiency.


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