U.S. Electrical Transmission Lines: The Roadblocks to Progress

October 11, 2023

The U.S. electrical grid is aging and not evolving quickly enough to accommodate the shift towards cleaner energy sources. Despite the pressing need to revamp and expand the grid, constructing new transmission lines remains a daunting task, likened to “herding cats.”

Over 1,000 gigawatts of potential clean energy projects are stuck in limbo, primarily due to transmission issues. The expansion rate of transmission lines from 2013-2020 was a mere 1% annually. To tap the full potential of the Inflation Reduction Act, this rate needs to jump to 2.3% per year.

Obstacles to Electrical Grid Advancement

The myriad of stakeholders complicates matters. With over 3,150 utility companies in the U.S., consensus on transmission lines’ locations and financing is elusive. Disparate interests, from environmentalists to power generation companies, often clash. Challenges intensify when transmission lines cross multiple states. Each state’s stance? “You pay for it.”

A core issue is cost recovery. Energy organizations must ensure a return on their investments in new lines, with costs typically passed to the benefiting electricity customers. The lack of a standardized system to allocate costs across utility territories is a significant hurdle.

Despite these challenges, there are glimmers of hope. MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator), a key regional planning agency, is spearheading a $10.3 billion plan for 18 new transmission projects. Their aim? To cut down project durations and enhance efficiency. Meanwhile, Great River Energy and Minnesota Power are pioneering a 150-mile transmission line project, prioritizing community involvement to navigate the delicate issue of land rights.

Challenges in Building New Electrical Transmission Lines

The expansion of the U.S. electrical grid faces numerous obstacles, making the construction of new transmission lines a challenging endeavor. Some of these challenges include:

  • Regulatory Hurdles: Multiple federal, state, and local agencies oversee grid expansion, sometimes resulting in prolonged approval processes.
  • Land Rights and Public Opposition: Acquiring land or rights-of-way often brings about conflicts with property owners, environmentalists, and local communities who may oppose new lines due to concerns about property values, environmental impact, or aesthetic reasons.
  • Environmental Concerns: The impact on wildlife, forests, and water sources often needs extensive study, further lengthening the approval process.
  • Cost Implications: High costs associated with building new infrastructure can deter investment, especially in regions where the return on investment is uncertain.
  • Technological Changes: As energy storage and distributed energy resources grow, there’s a debate on how much new transmission is truly needed.

Amidst these challenges, the U.S. needs to strike a balance between grid expansion and stakeholder concerns to meet its energy objectives and incorporate more renewables. Engagement, teamwork, and innovation are key as the U.S. works towards a sustainable electrical future.


J&P Electrical is a full-service electrical supply company. At J&P, we source contractors, end-users, and supply houses with new surplus, quality reconditioned, and obsolete electrical equipment. We also purchase a wide range of heavy industrial electrical equipment such as bus plugs, bus duct, transformers, circuit breakers, fuses, and switchboards. Call us at 877-844-5514 for assistance.  

Written by the digital marketing team at Creative Programs & Systems: https://www.cpsmi.com/

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