No more power lines?
Buried super-cooled electrical cables may replace towering transmission lines and carry solar and wind energy efficiently over long distances.
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“Tres Amigas will show superconducting technology is indeed a commercially viable alternative and a tremendous step forward in solving the nation’s transmission gridlock,” Harris says. “It should lessen lawsuits. If it’s buried, who cares?”Skip to next paragraph
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Well, Jeremy Chipps, for one. A resident of La Crescent, Minn., he and other members of Citizens Energy Taskforce have been fighting proposals for big power lines that they contend would carry mainly coal power – not renewable energy. He also is not persuaded that big transmission lines are really needed. He’d prefer the United States move to local power generation, rather than depending on big, distant facilities, even wind farms.
“We’re not anti-‘shoring up the grid,’ ” Mr. Chipps says. “But we are against massive costs of systems only designed to retain market share of big power companies. We think it would make more sense for power to be generated much closer to where it is used.”
Others, however, are keen on superconducting technology. Johanna Wald, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently put her stamp on a new conventional transmission line to bring renewable energy into southern California.
“We are going to have to look at all these technologies if we are going to meet our needs for renewable energy to address climate change,” she says. “Undergrounding is something utility companies today do only reluctantly. Increasingly they are willing to acknowledge the need to look at that option.”
The idea of underground superconducting cables thrills Paul Miller, county administrator of Madison County in New York. His and seven other counties fought a power line that would have planted huge transmission towers in the middle of the Delaware River Valley – 200-foot-high spires about every 800 feet.
“If superconducting transmission lines really come to pass,” he says, “and really offer the promise [they seem] to, a lot of the existing right of ways could be transformed.” Such lines “would be a lot more palatable if [they] didn’t have monster towers.”
(Editor's note: The original version of this article published Daniel McGahn's former title and American Superconductor's previous location. He is now president and the company is located in Devens, Mass. This revised edition of the story also includes that superconductors carry electricity with no resistance. The only lost energy goes toward refrigerating the cables.)