The US Department of Energy (DOE) wants to set up ten corridors across the country which would allow for the rapid expansion of the power grid.

It has drawn up a list of 10 of what it calls “national interest electric transmission corridors,” (NIETCs) which cover more than 3,500 miles of the US.

The US grid is under increasing strain, with consumption by data centers and other digital infrastructure driving demand for power. Data centers alone are expected to use an annual 35GW of electricity by the end of the decade, according to a report from Newmark released in January.

Power lines
The US DOE is proposing special corridors for power grid development – Thinkstock / zhengzaishuru

This means policymakers, energy companies and data center operators are all looking at ways to increase capacity, while also managing the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It is not just the US that is struggling to meet its power needs. Digital Bridge CEO Marc Ganzi said this week he expects data centers to run out of electricity in the next two years, citing insufficient power transmission and distribution in Europe, as well as America.

Corridors of certainty

NIETCs would accelerate the development of transmission projects in areas that present an urgent need for greater grid capacity, the DOE said.

The zones would be eligible for federal funding and “tools to spur transmission development,” which appears to mean that projects may be able to benefit from an expedited planning process.

Suggested NIETCs include the Mid-Atlantic corridor, multiple parallel sections of power lines, each up to 180 miles long across Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, which includes Northern Virginia, the world’s largest data center market.

Another, the 540-mile long Mountain-Plains-Southwest corridor, stretches into Texas, the second biggest market for digital infrastructure, as well as covering neighboring Colorado and New Mexico.

The plans are currently out for consultation.

“At more than a century old, our power grid is showing its age, leaving American consumers to bear the costs of maintaining it with frequent and longer power outages from extreme weather,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

She added that the government is “leveraging every tool to expand transmission and deploy more reliable, affordable, and clean power in every pocket of the nation.”

MISO and PJM embark on grid study

Meanwhile, power infrastructure company PJM, which operates the transmission lines in the proposed Mid-Atlantic NIETC, is working with another provider, MISO, on a study looking at the potential for more interregional transfer of power.

It is hoped that increasing transfer capability between regions may help to support greater grid resilience so that it can cope with extreme weather events, and also deal with fluctuations in supply which are inherent with many renewable energy sources.

“PJM looks forward to embarking on this study process with MISO as a path to increased coordination,” said Paul McGlynn, PJM’s vice president for planning. “Ensuring a reliable energy transition requires greater interdependence among regions and careful planning. Advancing this enhanced effort will benefit electricity consumers in each region.”

Aubrey Johnson, vice president of system planning and competitive transmission at MISO, added: “MISO and PJM have a long history of working together to address operational and planning challenges in our regions.

“We will conduct a study that will address both near-term needs and create a model for future studies.”

PJM is looking at new strategies after revealing it expects grid load on its network to grow 40 percent over the next 15 years, with peak load rising to 42,000MW.

PJM brings more power to Northern Virginia’s data centers

Elsewhere, a new 500-kilovolt transmission line which would shore up power supply to data centers in Northern Virginia has been proposed as part of a larger power infrastructure project being delivered by PJM.

The line, which is being proposed by utility company FirstEnergy, would stretch from a substation near Morgantown, West Virginia, which is adjacent to two coal-fired power plants, to a new substation in Clear Brook near Branson Spring Road in Frederick County, Maryland. It would then run into Jefferson County, West Virginia, before cutting into western Loudoun County, Virginia.

If built, the line would largely follow existing power routes. FirstEnergy expects to file planning applications next year, with construction to start in mid-2026 at the earliest, according to a report in the Winchester Star.

The line would form part of a wider $5.2 billion scheme from PJM to increase grid capacity, with new lines spanning Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. It has been criticized by campaigners because it will continue to rely on coal plants as a source of power.