John Arnold, a billionaire from Houston, is making a big bet on modernizing the outdated transmission infrastructure in the United States to transport electricity to areas where it is needed, including the distribution of wind and solar energy to towns and cities nationwide for the clean-energy transition.
Arnold told Bloomberg he has invested “several hundred million dollars” into Houston-based Grid United, a company he co-founded with transmission line developer Michael Skelly, to purchase land, easements, and the necessary permits for constructing electric highways that can stretch hundreds of miles.
Arnold and Skelly are planning long-haul transmission lines across multiple states on private land that might be very difficult to achieve because failing to win over every landowner could quickly scuttle the entire project.
“Arnold and Skelly are seeking to break a longstanding challenge in the industry where regulators, utilities, customers and investors are wary of projects that haven’t already secured necessary approvals,” Bloomberg said.
Adding transmission capacity to the US grid will be critical for the clean energy transition as more demand due to the electrification of the economy comes into play by the end of the decade.
The current state of the nation’s transmission is rather dire. About 70% of the transmission lines are over 25 years old, and this aging infrastructure makes delivering electricity to where it’s needed more challenging.
An expanded transmission system will allow for wind, solar, and nuclear power generation (so-called clean energy) to be delivered nationwide more efficiently and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Biden has targeted 100% clean electricity by 2035.
“We are trying to break this chicken and egg cycle by acquiring the land position first.
“We hope this both compresses the timeline and makes it easier to develop a successful project, but it comes with significantly greater financial risk,” Arnold said.
Grid United has announced five transmission line projects and has others in the pipeline. Each electric highway costs $1-3 billion and can carry 1.5-3 gigawatts (each gigawatt powers about 200,000 homes).
The green transition thus far has had a damaging effect on America’s largest power grid. The swift removal of fossil fuel power generation has outpaced the addition of new capacity, leading to concerns about reliability.
Given President Biden’s goal to have most new car sales be electric within the next decade, it would be wise to upgrade the country’s transmission infrastructure. However, when it comes to upgrading power generation, there is an increasing need for next-generation nuclear energy that is on-demand power, unlike solar and wind power, which are unreliable.