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FERC Promotes Holistic Approach to Transmission

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Oct 29, 2021

The United States has a transmission problem, and I’m not talking about Covid-19. According to an article this year in the Atlantic, China has built over 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission while America has built 0. The consequences of our sluggish transmission progress are evident: declining reliability in regions increasingly dependent on renewables like Texas and California. If the renewable revolution is to continue, and it is, then transmission must catch up. 

The good news is that the media and decision makers are finally realizing our country needs more power lines. However, bad policy still stands in the way of a transmission overhaul. Almost all the major transmission projects the country needs are inter-state, but transmission projects are approved at the state level. This means developers must go through numerous sitting and permitting processes. 

The regulatory barriers facing transmission developers were highlighted in a report earlier this year by the nonprofit Americans for a Clean Energy Grid. The study identified 22 shovel-ready projects that have been in existence for a decade or more. To get such projects off the ground, the report’s authors suggested streamlining project siting and permitting, passing a tax credit for transmission projects, and direct investment by the federal government. 

Luckily, FERC seems intent on addressing the current barriers impeding on transmission development. Recently, the agency’s Chairman, Richard Glick, announced the agenda for next month’s transmission task force with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). Talking about the task force with the media, Glick has emphasized that the regional region by region framework should be streamlined to facilitate faster approvals. Here’s what he said earlier this week during a webinar hosted by the Niskanen Center and the Clean Air Task Force: 

"There's a significant need for [states] to work together and work with FERC on some of these issues … and the same with us. I think we realize we can't do it alone either. I'm hopeful that this joint task force will lead to a better approach overall, in terms of transmission development that I think can be used as a roadmap for folks around the country."

According to Glick, a more holistic approach not only serves to accelerate transmission projects, but also to promote a fairer rollout of the infrastructure. Specifically, in addition to state involvement, public input is important: "One of the goals is to try to get affected communities, whether it be environmental justice communities, but others as well, to participate in our proceedings,” said the chairman. 

This last point fits into the agency’s recent concern for equity in the power landscape. Personally, I find it pretty encouraging. As Seattle City Light's Energy & Innovation Resources Officer Emeka Anyanwu pointed out in a recent interview with Energy Central: 

“Historically we’ve had policies and structures that have been exclusionary. So, as we transition to clean energy, it’s important that we don’t create new inequities. For example, we can’t allow the burden of infrastructure to fall on lower-income communities as it historically has. We need to build an electrification system that’s not just about $70,000 Teslas, but also the public transit so many in our community rely on.”

If the government can speed up transmission development while simultaneously making our energy infrastructure fairer, then all power to them.



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