National, state coalitions sought for co-locating transmission, communications infrastructure along highways to meet grid decarbonization and EV growth.
MINNEAPOLIS – January 9, 2023 – NextGen Highways initiative has secured funding from Breakthrough Energy to develop national and state-level coalitions advocating for new renewable electric transmission infrastructure to be built in existing public rights-of-way (ROW) to meet the growing demand from electric vehicles and building electrification.
The initiative, which initially sprang from public-private collaboration in Minnesota, is now working to expand the exploration of co-locating new electric transmission with existing communications infrastructure in ROWs alongside the nation’s interstates and highways. “If speed-to-the-ball is an important consideration in decarbonization and electrification, then consideration of the use of existing infrastructure ROW is a must,” said Randy Satterfield, executive director of NextGen Highways.
In the first quarter of 2023, NextGen Highways will begin developing a diverse national coalition, as well as within target states where there is both a need for electric transmission development and where state regulations and policies prohibit the use of these ROWs. These national and state coalitions will work with interested private partners, elected officials and other policymakers to examine law or policy changes.
“We are excited to engage with stakeholders to explore policy and planning objectives in states across the country,” said Matt Prorok, senior policy manager at Great Plains Institute, a NextGen Highways partner. “Using what we’ve learned in Minnesota together with Wisconsin’s siting success, sets the stage for meaningful policy engagement in target states.”
NextGen Highways will continue its work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT) to examine potential state statute and departmental policy changes following the release of a feasibility study last year. The feasibility study examined the potential to co-locate energy infrastructure along the state’s major transportation arteries and was done in close coordination with the Minnesota DOT.
A key finding from the study was that buried high-voltage, direct current transmission can be cost effective and sited in interstate and highway ROWs after making appropriate consideration of transportation system needs. It also noted that the state of Wisconsin has developed a playbook that can be used by others to successfully site transmission in interstate and highway ROWs.
“DOTs are being called upon to understand our nation’s pressing energy needs, the benefits of the use of existing highway rights-of-way for transmission, and the connections to the electrification of transportation,” said Jessica Oh, strategic partnerships director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Fifteen state DOTs indicated an interest in further discussions and exploration when NextGen Highways presented the co-location concept at a gathering in July hosted by the Minnesota DOT and U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FWHA).
FWHA also noted in an April 2021 guidance the value of encouraging states to open ROWs “for pressing public needs relating to climate change, equitable communications access, and energy reliability,” including renewable energy generation and electrical transmission and distribution projects.
By 2050, the U.S. could need up to three times as much transmission capacity to meet ambitious decarbonization goals, with new renewable power coming online amid an acceleration of U.S. transportation and buildings electrification. According to analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this widespread electrification will increase the country’s power consumption up to 40 percent by 2050.
Significant federal funding has been allocated to infrastructure in both the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, representing an opportunity to coordinate planning across federal and state agencies and the private sector to maximize the benefits of these investments. That includes $7.5 billion for U.S. electric vehicle charging infrastructure to meet the goal of installing 500,000 publicly accessible charging stations compatible with all vehicles and technologies nationwide by 2030.
“Opening up highway and other existing rights-of-way to electric and communications infrastructure establishes the foundation needed to achieve the scale and repeatability that our ambitious goals require,” said Morgan Putnam, NextGen Highways founder and advisor.
About NextGen Highways
NextGen Highways is a collaborative initiative promoting the use of highways and other existing rights-of-way as infrastructure corridors where electric and communications infrastructure are strategically and safely co-located in existing highway rights-of-way.