FERC proposes interconnection changes
- Jun 23, 2022 7:23 pm GMT
Skimming through my newsfeed this morning, I came across an encouraging development for transmission development in the U.S. FERC has released a proposal for new interconnection rules that could, in theory, speed up the interconnection process.
As it currently stands, there are around 8,100 proposed generation and storage projects that are sitting in interconnection queues across the country. The review process for such projects generally takes around 3.7 years to finish. Many projects drop out before finishing.
This represents a highly consequential inefficiency in a country where power prices are through the roof, and many parts of the region are plagued by unreliable service.
The FERC proposal seeks to remedy the logjam in two significant ways: studying requests in groups, instead of individually, and by imposing larger financial commitments to ensure the requests are for real. The new rules would also dole out fines to those who miss review deadlines.
It’s hard to explain just how dire the United State’s need for faster and better transmission development is. Just consider this fact reported in an Atlantic article last year: “Since 2009, China has built more than 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission lines. The U.S. has built zero.”
FERC’s proposal would certainly move the needle in the right direction. However, the new rules wouldn’t solve a deeper problem plaguing our transmission sitting processus: community input.
In a recent Atlantic article, the reason for our sorry transmission system (and housing and public transportation crises) is explored. The author blames community input processus that allow a small minority to block important projects that would deliver big net benefits to society. Here’s how he explains it:
“The community-input process is disastrous for two broad reasons. First, community input is not representative of the local population. Second, the perception of who counts as part of an affected local community tends to include everyone who feels the negative costs of development but only a fragment of the beneficiaries.
Not everybody is a complainer, but pretty much everyone who shows up to community meetings is. Katherine Einstein, David Glick, and Maxwell Palmer, Boston University political scientists and co-authors of Neighborhood Defenders, examined zoning and planning meetings across Massachusetts. They found that a measly 14.6 percent of people who showed up to these events were in favor of the relevant projects. Meeting participants were also 25 percentage points more likely to be homeowners and were significantly older, maler, and whiter than their communities.”
Right now, this very problem is holding back important transmission projects across the country.
The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) has been perhaps the most high profile of embattled transmission projects. For those who don’t know, NECEC is a transmission line that would transport hydropower from Quebec to the Massachusetts grid. The NECEC would have a big impact on Massachusetts’ energy portfolio. The transmission project promised to transport 9.45 million MWh of electricity from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts every year. That would account for around 8% of the electricity used in all of New England, powering close to 1.2 million homes.
However the project has been brought to a standstill and risks never being completed. Opponents, a mix concerned residents, environmental groups, Native American tribes, and rival utilities, successfully got Maine voters to pass a measure that halted the project last November. On May 10th, the referendum’s legality will be decided on by the state’s supreme court.
In New York, too, a power line that would help NYC re-transition to clean power (the Indian Point nuclear plant used to provide tons of clean power to the city but environmentalists successfully lobbied to have it closed last year) is also at risk of being derailed by similar community mechanisms. The conflict is detailed in a recent Grist article:
“The Champlain Hudson Power Express — or CHPE, pronounced “Chippy” — will do something similar: it will funnel clean energy into the city via a transmission line, part of which will be buried under the Hudson River. But the power CHPE will bring in isn’t local — it’s sourced from Canada, where dams owned by a company called Hydro-Québec generate a bounty of electricity. To meet its climate goals, the city has approved the construction of a 339-mile power cable carrying that excess hydropower from Québec all the way to Queens. This project, however, has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists and community groups, who argue that it outsources clean energy and jobs to a different country; from First Nations in Canada, who allege the company’s dams perpetrate environmental harms on Indigenous communities in Québec; and from critics who say hydropower isn’t as clean as its proponents claim.”
Luckily, the opposition groups have not yet been successful in New York.
FERC’s proposal represents a step in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to transmission development in the U.S. Luckily, the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves, both from the mainstream media and policy makers.
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