Transmission Infrastructure in Energy Transitions: Conflicts and Opportunities

Authors: Madeline Kroot*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Energy, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: political ecology, energy geography, energy transition, transmission infrastructure
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Plaza Court 8, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

While energy transition is often imagined as new patterns of energy extraction, generation, and consumption, much of its spatial impact will come in the form of new longitudinal transmission lines built across existing socioecological landscapes. As U.S. states pledge to source energy from renewable sources, increasing numbers of these transmission lines are being proposed – and contested – across the country, complicating the future of energy transition and raising critical questions about the unevenness of emerging energy geographies. How do these novel transmission geographies entrench power, and how can they disrupt existing energy regimes? In this article, I explore the role of longitudinal transmission lines in the spatial politics of energy transition, using opposition to the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire as a case study. Conflict around Northern Pass demonstrates the ways in which transmission infrastructure both embeds and is embedded within uneven power relations that privilege certain actors, often at the expense of rural and indigenous communities. I argue that this unevenness embedded within transmission geographies is a critical, yet understudied, obstacle to a just transition towards lower-carbon energy futures. However, in the case of Northern Pass, opposition was also politically transformative, as activists were able to reform the state permitting process in a way that has the potential to promote more democratic and participatory energy planning in the future.

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