• Maintain and expand power generation and transmission infrastructure on the basis of reasonable projections of increased demand and need to maintain the nation's energy security. This is consistent with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and independent examinations of the state of the nation's energy infrastructure;
  • Improve the nation's electricity infrastructure system to support an integrated operation and control scheme that provides reliable and safe electricity to the nation;
  • Design and construct adequate transmission infrastructure to provide reserve margins and operating capacity that are an important part of the national reliability plan of the North American Electric Reliability Council;
  • Create incentives to promote energy conservation and the development and installation of highly efficient fossil and nuclear generation and renewable technologies (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal);
  • Establish a long-term generation research and development plan to extend current energy supplies through new and potential energy sources;
  • Continue research in areas related to improving and enhancing the nation's transmission and generation infrastructure;
  • Educate the public and government officials of the function that the transmission infrastructure plays in the role of our society and the need for new transmission lines to support those expectations.


There are more than 3,100 electric utilities in the United States. Among them are 213 stockholder-owned utilities that provide power to about 73% of the customers; 2,000 public utilities run by state and local government agencies that provide power to about 15% of the customers; and 930 electric cooperatives providing power to about 12% of the customers. Additionally, there are nearly 2,100 nonutility power producers, including both independent power companies and customer-owned distributed energy facilities. The bulk power system consists of three independent networks: Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection. These networks incorporate international connections with Canada and Mexico. Overall reliability planning and coordination is provided by the North American Electric Reliability Council, a voluntary organization formed in 1968 in response to the Northeast blackout of 1965. America operates about 157,000 miles of high-voltage (greater than 230 kilovolts) electric transmission lines. 1

The U.S. generation and transmission system is at a critical point requiring substantial investment in new generation, investment to improve efficiencies in existing generation, and investment in transmission and distribution systems. The transmission and distribution system has become congested because growth in electricity demand and investment in new generation facilities have not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. This congestion virtually prohibits outages required for proper maintenance and can lead to system wide failures in the event of unplanned outages. Electricity demand has increased by about 25% since 1990 while construction of transmission facilities decreased by about 30 percent. While annual investment in new transmission facilities has generally declined or been stagnant during the last 30 years, there has been an increase in investment during the past 5 years. Substantial investment in generation, transmission, and distribution are expected over the next two decades and it has been projected that electric utility investment needs could be as much as $1.5 to $2 trillion by 2030. Some progress in grid reinforcement has been made since 2005, but public and government opposition, difficult permitting processes, and environmental requirements are often restricting the much-needed modernization. 6

Congested transmission paths, or "bottlenecks," now affect many parts of the grid across the country. One recent estimate concludes that power outages and power quality disturbances cost the economy between $25 billion and $180 billion annually. These costs could soar if outages or disturbances become more frequent or longer in duration. There are also operational problems in maintaining voltage levels. Transmission problems have been compounded by the incomplete transition to fair and efficient competitive wholesale electricity markets. Because the existing transmission system was not designed to meet present demand, daily transmission constraints or "bottlenecks" increase electricity costs to consumers and increase the risk of blackouts. 3

Many new transmission lines have been proposed to either alleviate these congested paths or to provide redundancy so that existing portions of the transmission system can be temporarily taken out of service for proper maintenance and modernization.  In many cases funding is not the primary reason why these critical lines are not being built.  Overly stringent permitting requirements, lawsuits, and other regulatory issues often inhibit construction of transmission lines.

The distribution side of the grid system includes substations, wires, poles, metering, billing, and related support systems involved in the retail side of electricity delivery. The need to expand the distribution infrastructure and install new distribution equipment to meet population and demand growth will require continued investment. Electric companies are estimated to spend $14 billion per year on average over the next 10 years on distribution investment. Over the next decade, distribution investment is likely to exceed capital spending on generation capacity as well.

There is also a need to design our distribution systems for a higher reliability. During Hurricane Wilma, a Category 2 hurricane, the winds were substantially below the design wind loads required by the National Electric Safety Code (NESC).  The NESC excludes facilities less than 60 feet high from these wind load requirements in the belief that most of these facilities are taken down by flying debris.  But 75 percent of the distribution poles failed because of wind loads only. If these structures had been designed for the 90 mph winds required by NESC on transmission structures, it is readily apparent these distribution outages would have been reduced. The NESC and utilities need to address the design of these structures to meet the current transmission loading criteria. Utilities that make an investment to "harden" their distribution system should also be guaranteed a rate of return on their investment.


As applied to infrastructure, the concept of evaluating resilience embodies a shift from a strategy based on pure protection to one that ensures the continuity of operations in the face of aging as well as man-made and natural hazards.  The scope of resilience includes security, disaster preparedness and mitigation, and response and recovery activities.

The national electric grid currently lacks a significant degree of resilience.  Utilities are generally prepared for local and regional responses; however, the national electric grid as a whole lacks a significant degree of resilience should a much broader response be required. Future investments in the system must improve system robustness, redundancy, and rapid recovery.  Additionally, new technologies and behavioral changes focused on reduction and increased efficiency are necessary.  True system resilience will require a national effort to modernize the electric grid to enhance security and the reliability of the energy infrastructure and facilitate recovery from disruptions to energy supply, from both natural and man-made hazards.


The "information economy" requires a reliable, secure, and affordable electric system to grow and prosper. Unless substantial amounts of capital are invested over the next several decades in new generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, service quality will degrade and costs will go up. These investments will involve new technologies that improve the existing electric system and possibly advanced technologies that could revolutionize the electric grid. While much is still left to be accomplished, this effort has raised the grade to a "D+" in the 2009 Report Card.


  1. U.S. Energy Department, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Overview of the Electric Grid, at .
  2. U.S. Energy Department, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, 2006 Congestion Study at
  3. U.S. Energy Department, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, 2009 Congestion Study at  and comments at
  4. Edison Electric Institute, Industry Issues (2008).
  5. Edison Electric Institute, EEI Principles on Transmission Investment (2005)
  6. KEMA, Inc. for Florida Power & Light Company, Technical Report: Post Hurricane Wilma
    Engineering Analysis (January 12, 2006), at
  7. U.S. Energy Department, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Gridworks (2008), at
  8. U.S. Energy Department, National Transmission Grid Study (2002).