Marrying Stranded Wind and Freight Rail Electrification

(Electrification of our nation’s railroads is winning idea. Do we have the will and money to make it happen? – promoted by Magnifico)

Welcome to the next in my (sporadic) Long Emergency series of essays.

This one is a real cheap rip-off essay, in which I simply rip out the short policy proposal wrapped up in a Daily Kos candidate diary, and present it without the candidate diary parts.

Here is a version of the national Wind Resource map:

It should, I hope, be clear that much of the best resource is in areas that do not have the highest electricity consumption. And at the same time, that is a lot of the terrain that the transcontinental freight rail must traverse to get where its going. And, at the same time, we desperately need to get the main freight rail trunk lines electrified, by hook or by crook. Ergo, I got a grossly oversimplified policy proposal to present.

  • The Federal Government invests in publicly owned infrastructure to electrify the main railroad
  • In return, the owners of the right of way cede use of the right of way above the part that they need to public use, together with access to the ground level right of way for support structures
  • That right of way is used to establish long distance High Voltage DC trunk lines to bring sustainable energy from the places that have it to places the need it
  • In areas where there is a commercial wind resource, the usage rights above those trunk lines are available to be leased out for wind farm operators, with the lease payments rolled back into the funding for the program

Some answers to some challenges to the proposal, after the fold.

Opponents will argue, “long distance power transport loses power”.

My suggested answer:

“Wind Power is use it or lose it. If we do not burn a ton of coal this year, we can burn it next year, or next decade, or a century from now. And if we wait, we may be able to use it in a way that does not damage the environment. But every Terawatt of Wind Power that we leave untapped is just gone.”

Opponents will argue, “The Federal Government should not subsidize the electrification of the freight rail grid.”

My suggested answer:

The reason we subsidized the Interstate Highway system was national defense. But back then we were an oil exporter. Now we are a massive oil importer. We have to be able to move essential food, supplies, and defense material from one side of the country to the other without having that hostage to events in the Middle East. Sustainable electricity supplies let us do that.”

Opponents will argue, “We cannot rely on wind power to always be there.”

My suggested answer:

“Its a big country we have here. There is always some wind blowing across some part of our country. But its true that sometimes there will be more wind power than other times. As long as the federal government makes sure that that power can be transported and sold at times that it is needed, I am sure that enterprising private firms will find ways to store it in times that it is abundant.”

Now, getting the proposal out there required far more than verbiage. It needs a good visual. And while I do not have the resource to quickly put that visual together, I’ve got a clear picture in me head.

A US state boundary map. A big bold percentage in black, that shows the total wind resource in the state, on current estimates, as a percentage of total current US electricity use. And include offshore wind resource within state boundaries in that percentage. A big bold percentage in red, that shows the state’s share of total electricity consumption. And in blue, the main existing trunk line rail network, with blue lightning bolts laid out alongside the ones that link up wind power surplus states with wind power deficit states.

OK, that’s what I got at the moment. Tell me what you think.


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    • BruceMcF on January 27, 2008 at 19:58

    … I have the candidate diary on dKos and at the supporter’s blog hosted by the candidate’s campaign, so I may be in and out.

    • Edger on January 28, 2008 at 02:00

    Has anyone crunched numbers far enough to determine what percentage of the Freight Rail Electrification demands could be reliably met with wind power, and over what timeframe?

    It also raises the possibility of expanding the proposal into a phased industry by industry program across the country – maybe beginning with supplying manufacturing plants?

    Excess if any could also be sold to the nationwide grid system.

  1. The Milwaukee Road began electrification in 1914-15 in the Pacific NW using hydro-power. In 1973-74, the railroad scrapped electrification because it was an “impediment to its merger and consolidation” plans and because the struggling railroad could get $10 million by selling off the copper wire. Re-electrification of the west, this time powered by wind, in my opinion, “would be a step in the right direction”.

    • Viet71 on January 30, 2008 at 02:10

    the energy created by wind power to users?

    Much is lost in transmission.

    Have some thoughts (educated as an EE).

    But interested in yours.

  2. in the sixties we committed ourselves to great vision….

    and we landed human beings on the moon….

    we are still benefiting from that investment…..

    how possible would such an effort be to create a mag-lev train and invest in superconducting technology for it and the power transmission you speak of ?!?…..

    something like this needs to become ubiquitous so that we can change our relationship to the idividual and the automobile…..

    because the number of autos is about to go through the roof with china coming on line……

    • Viet71 on January 30, 2008 at 02:52

    Energy production is not polite.

    The Nazis produced lots of artificial fuel right up until the end of the war.

    The U.S. could do the same sort of thing, minus Bush and Exxon.

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