The Ray and NGI co-lead the NextGen Highways team which is focused on the strategic co-location of electric and communications infrastructure in the highway right-of-way (ROW). This co-location strategy would build for the transportation future, enable a clean energy economy, and remove barriers to economic development.
The Feasibility Study focused on the potential deployment of buried, high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) transmission lines in Minnesota interstate and highway ROW. This is a first step for the NextGen Highways team as it works to reimagine the nation’s highway system on the heels of the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 and the federal government’s historic infrastructure investment.
The NextGen Highways team worked with an internal working group at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to explore opportunities and barriers associated with locating buried HVDC transmission within the highway ROW. Specifically, the NextGen Highways team and working group reviewed applicable policy, regulation and projects, analyzed MnDOT-specific concerns, examined HVDC transmission line requirements, and assessed buried HVDC cost and benefits.
“The findings from this study demonstrate that buried HVDC transmission is cost-effective and can be feasibly sited in interstate and highway ROW after making appropriate consideration for existing and future transportation system needs,” said Morgan Putnam, founder of NGI Consulting. “This means that our existing highway system can enable transportation and grid decarbonization and strengthen grid reliability and resilience – all while delivering billions of dollars in societal benefits.”
In April 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released guidance clarifying the highway ROW “can be leveraged by State DOTs for pressing public needs relating to climate change, equitable communications access, and energy reliability.” Projects listed include renewable energy generation, electrical transmission and distribution projects, broadband projects, vegetation management, inductive charging in travel lanes, and alternative fueling facilities, among others.
“Federal policy not only authorizes building electrical transmission and fiber along our roads, but it also strongly encourages State DOTs to approach infrastructure planning with a wide lens, taking into account both immediate and future public needs that could be met by leveraging transportation ROW,” said Laura Rogers, deputy director of The Ray. “To support clean vehicle electrification, our existing transportation infrastructure will need to evolve to incorporate the infrastructure to power and connect these vehicles. This Feasibility Study demonstrates that states can use existing publicly-owned land to help solve our Nation’s greatest and immediate challenges in the energy, transportation and communications sectors.”
The Feasibility Study also found that the State of Wisconsin provides a good playbook for siting and building transmission in highway ROW. “Utilities and regulators in Wisconsin have successfully collaborated with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to place more than 800 miles of electric transmission infrastructure within and along state and interstate highway ROW over the last 20 years,” said Randy Satterfield of Satterfield Consulting. “Other states across the country now have the opportunity to do the same.”
Additional key findings from the Feasibility Study showcase that buried HVDC transmission in highway ROW shares many of the same challenges as buried fiber. This is notable, considering buried HVDC transmission and buried fiber can be co-located together in the same trench or duct bank.
Given the positive findings from this Feasibility Study, the NextGen Highways team is planning to continue its work with MnDOT in 2022 and to launch a coalition of State DOTs, utilities and transmission developers to support the co-location of buried fiber and transmission in highway and interstate ROW. To view the full study, click here.
About The Ray
The Ray is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity and net-zero highway testbed, located on 18 miles of Interstate 85 between LaGrange, Georgia and the Georgia-Alabama state line. The stretch of interstate is named in memory of Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), a Georgia native recognized as a leader in green business when he challenged his company, Interface, Inc., to pursue a zero environmental footprint. “The Ray Highway” testbed is paving the way for a zero-carbon, zero waste, zero death highway system to build a safer and more prosperous future for all. Learn more at www.TheRay.org.
About NGI Consulting
Morgan Putnam founded NGI Consulting in 2019 to help cities, corporations, and states envision paths towards next-generation infrastructure. Morgan’s past experience includes creating financial risk products for REsurety that have supported 500 MW of solar projects, co-leading the MN Solar Pathways project, and improving utility interconnection processes for distributed energy resources. Learn more at www.buildngi.com.
Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) oversees transportation by all modes, including land, water, air, rail, transit, walking and bicycling. The agency is responsible for maintaining, building and operating the state highway system to ensure a safe, accessible, efficient and reliable transportation system that connects people to destinations and markets throughout the state, regionally and around the world.
Meredith Stinson | Director of Communications | The Ray
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