Science & Technology



Wind and solar in limbo: Long waitlists to get on the grid are a 'leading barrier'

Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

Ninety miles west of Chicago, the corn and soybean fields stretch to the sky, and dreams of the clean energy future dangle — just out of reach.

To the east of Route 52, there’s the first phase of the 9,500-acre Steward Creek solar farm, in the works since 2019.

To the west, there’s South Dixon Solar, which once hoped to begin construction on 3,800 acres in 2022.

Both projects have been approved by the Lee County Board. But neither can be built, according to a county official, due to PJM Interconnection, a powerful but little-known entity that controls access to the high-voltage electric grid in northern Illinois.

“There isn’t anything we can do to help the state move forward (with its clean energy goals),” said Lee County Zoning Administrator Alice Henkel. “This is all PJM. They have the control.”

As the clean energy transition surges ahead, with prices for electricity from wind and solar dropping and market share growing, long waitlists for new power sources seeking approval to connect to the electric grid have quietly emerged as a major barrier.


Across the nation, the waitlists for large projects to connect to the grid — and deliver power to homes and businesses — have ballooned, leaving over 1,400 gigawatts of wind and solar power in limbo, enough to allow the United States to achieve 90% clean electricity.

“We really shouldn’t have this kind of breakdown in something that’s so vital,” said Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

And nowhere is the problem worse, according to a recent first-of-its-kind report, than in the PJM region, which spans Washington, D.C., and 13 states, in whole or in part, including northern Illinois.

PJM came in last out of seven regions, with a grade of D-, in the Generation Interconnection Scorecard report prepared for the business association Advanced Energy United.


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