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Columbia report details how federal government can help get transmission infrastructure needed for grid decarbonization built

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  • Dec 22, 2020

The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs has issued a paper detailing how the federal government can enable the construction of the transmission infrastructure necessary to decarbonize the country’s power generation.

As its title suggests, the premise of “Building a New Grid without New Legislation: A Path to Revitalizing Federal Transmission Authorities” is that federal agencies already have what the center calls the “legal authorities” to enable the development of the transmission infrastructure needed for grid decarbonization even without additional legislation from Congress.

The center, which published the paper in partnership with the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, says that although the authorities have been weakened over the past decade by judicial interpretations and political roadblocks, they are still available “should an administration seek to use them.”

The paper focuses on three authorities:

• The authorities granted the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under section 216 of the Federal Power Act, which directs the DOE to designate national interest energy transmission corridors and, if a state agency impermissibly stalls or rejects a project in a corridor, authorizes FERC to issue a federal permit that preempts state limits and grants the permit holder eminent domain authority.

• The authorities granted the DOE under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which authorizes it to partner with private entities to develop transmission facilities, thereby both freeing development efforts from state-level regulatory requirements and imbuing them with federal eminent domain authority.

• The statutory authority that belongs to the federal power marketing administrations that market and deliver hydropower generated by federally owned dams, which enables them to develop new transmission facilities across large swaths of the continental US without concern for key state-level regulatory requirements and with the power of federal eminent domain.

The paper complements a recent post by Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology on how President-Elect Joe Biden can, once he becomes president, unleash $7.8 trillion in investment and create 6 million jobs by expanding the grid.


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