Will the FERC take a stronger stance on transmission siting?
- Jan 8, 2022 3:22 am GMT
Over the summer, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick told Congress that he would defer to the federal legislative body to "assess whether the commission should have siting authority for electric transmission similar to its authority over interstate natural gas pipelines." This was somewhat of a flashpoint, placing the ball in Congress's court on expediting the expansion of the country's aching transmission infrastructure.
The United States prides itself on the American Dream of owning our own little slice of the country. However, that American Dream is proving obstinate against the new dream, or, rather, desperate need, to expand transmission infrastructure so we can transport renewable energy from places where wind and solar power is created to the places that need it, reducing our carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels—our best chance at softening a climate disaster. Siting transmission projects remains among the biggest hurdles to a renewable energy future. Our existing infrastructure is not suited for a 21st-century energy system.
Americans for a Clean Energy Grid published a report last spring listing 22 major transmission projects that could be sped up with help from policymakers. Together, the 22 projects represent a $33 billion investment, with the potential to interconnect 60,000MW of renewable energy capacity and increase America's wind and solar generation by 50% from current levels. Of the 8,000 miles of transmission lines, the most expensive project was $3 billion: the Transwest Express, which proposed to connect Wyoming wind power down 730 miles to the hub of Las Vegas, Nevada. The longest project measures at 1,000 miles, and would connect Wyoming wind power to the Pacific Northwest, for a cost of $2.8 billion.
There are many projects in development but with little help, aside from funding, from policymakers. Americans for a Clean Energy Grid highlighted a handful of ways lawmakers could help out, from tax credits, to the federal government becoming the initial investor in a project—becoming what's known as the "anchor tenant"—to provide confidence in the project, then sell the transmission capacity to other users.
However, probably the most important hand lawmakers could extend is streamlined permitting, which the federal government could do for transmission projects that cross state lines. Since Glick's comments over the summer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Sen. Mike Quigley introduced the Streamlining Interstate Transmission of Electricity Act, which would establish a new federal siting authority at the FERC. The authority would be given greater siting power and create a new eminent domain ability for the FERC, which could also protect against abuses in transmission siting.
This bill represents the latest and greatest hope for expedited transmission development in the United States, especially with an FERC chief who has openly said he would defer to Congress on using eminent domain to site new transmission projects.
This authority is already granted to the FERC for natural gas pipelines the commission deems to be in the public interest. According to a report from the Niskanen Center, the FERC confers "extraordinary powers to pipeline projects", among them, exercising federal eminent domain to take private land, even from states.
At a minimum, transmission lines that carry electricity, which represent a crucial element to weaning us off of fossil fuels, should be given the same treatment as pipelines that carry natural gas.
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