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Opinion: A ‘Good-Roads Movement’ for the 21st Century

Rural Colorado needs more electricity transmission lines to get all that wind energy to you

If you’re a farmer, you love well-built and well-maintained roads. Without them, there’s virtually no way to get your crops or livestock to market, and therefore no way to make a living.

Greg Brophy

In fact, farmers played a pivotal role in the “good roads” movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s – a movement that spurred the creation of the modern road system we enjoy today.

A bad road “is a relentless tax assessor and a sure collector,” noted one farmer at the time. More recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared “well-maintained roads are indispensable to support the transport and economic competitiveness of agricultural goods.”

Today, however, rural America is facing a new infrastructure challenge that’s limiting our economic potential. This time, it isn’t roads – it’s a shortage of transmission lines that are capable of moving electricity produced in rural communities to homes and businesses in major metropolitan areas.

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We need more of this infrastructure because electricity is a growing “cash crop” for many agricultural communities. Renewable energy projects – and especially wind farms – are already highly concentrated in rural areas like Colorado’s Eastern Plains. But that’s only part of the story.

Developers of other energy technologies, including small nuclear reactors, battery storage, hydrogen, carbon capture and advanced geothermal, are also looking to expand in rural America. Building in major metropolitan areas is too expensive and often at the mercy of anti-development, not-in-my-backyard political agendas.

But continued investment from the energy sector in rural communities only makes sense if electricity producers can get their goods to market — which is why new transportation infrastructure for electricity, in the form of new transmission lines, is so important.

Here in Colorado, a great local example is a planned transportation corridor for electricity generated on the Eastern Plains. The project is called Colorado’s Power Pathway and the value of the project is estimated at between $1.7 billion and $2 billion.

According to the project developer, Xcel Energy, eastern Colorado “is one of the nation’s best areas for wind and solar.” But without transmission lines to connect wind farms and solar arrays to large electricity markets, including communities along the I-25 corridor, these natural resources would be wasted. Landowners would have less income. There would be less tax revenue for local governments and rural school districts.

This is why we need to reduce the red tape and simplify the needlessly complex permitting process for building new transmission lines. Likewise, individuals and groups that oppose new transmission lines should, respectfully, rethink their opposition.

Here’s why I say that: Electricity is one of rural America’s fastest growing commodities. The only way producers can reach buyers is through transmission lines. In fact, you could say that transmission lines are a lot like roads for electricity.

In everyday life, as individual drivers, we only use a tiny fraction of the available roads. Most of the time, we stick to a handful of routes between work, school and the grocery store. But we also accept the need for a much larger, interconnected system of roads, so that other people can also travel freely, and so businesses have a way to ship their goods to stores or directly to consumers.

It’s the same with transmission lines. Even if they don’t run directly to your house or business, or even to your community, transmission lines are an essential part of a larger, interconnected power grid that supports our economy and our way of life.

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And with every passing year, those transmission lines increasingly provide vital economic connections between rural communities that generate electricity and urban communities where so much electricity is consumed.

Just as farmers needed better roads in the early 20th century to get their goods to market, electricity producers in rural America need better transportation infrastructure in the 21st century.

If we can make that happen, it will mean more investment, more jobs and more revenue for essential services in farming and ranching communities – and a more stable, reliable and competitive energy market for everyone, no matter where they live.


Greg Brophy, of Wray, is a farmer and former state senator. He is the Colorado Director of The Western Way.


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