Developers say transmission can be part of Trump’s infrastructure plan

Source: By Stephanie Tsao, SNL • Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2016

U.S. transmission developers need to show that electric transmission can be part of Donald Trump’s growth and infrastructure plan in order to engage the new administration, developers said Nov. 15.

One important thing to show is that transmission is infrastructure, Robert McKee, American Transmission Co. LLC director of regulatory relations and policy, said during the keynote address of the TransForum East conference held in Washington, D.C.

Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office calls for allowing major energy infrastructure projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline to move forward but does not specifically mention electricity infrastructure. Furthermore, Trump plans to introduce the American Energy and Infrastructure Act, which aims to leverage public and private partnerships and tax incentives to invest about $1 trillion in infrastructure over 10 years.

It is not clear whether there is a vision of electricity infrastructure embedded in Trump’s infrastructure plan, which can include railroads and other types of infrastructure, said Clarke Bruno, a principal at Anbaric Transmission, a Boston-based electric transmission developer.

Transmission developers are also monitoring potential leadership changes at FERC under Trump’s administration.

McKee said that he sees four possible vacancies at FERC. Two open seats come from former commissioner Philip Moeller, who left the agency in October 2015, and Tony Clark who left the agency after its open monthly meeting on Sept. 22. Another potential vacancy comes from Commissioner Colette Honorable, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014 and whose term expires on June 30, 2017.

The final potential vacancy is the chair of FERC, a position held by Norman Bay, an Obama appointee whose term ends on June 30, 2018. Traditionally, the existing chair resigns while the new administration appoints a new leader that aligns with the new administration’s political party.

Steven Ross, a former attorney at FERC and now partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, said he expects to see a new chair appointed by the middle of next year, though he said his remarks represent his own statements and not those of his firm.

New leadership at FERC could also have implications on Order 1000, FERC’s decision from 2012 that reformed the agency’s transmission planning process.

“Time will tell in terms of the prognosis for Order 1000 — its path under a new administration could take many directions from new FERC decisions that simply reshape implementation from where it’s been to date, to experiencing larger actions that could change its trajectory altogether,” David DesLauriers, a director at engineering, procurement and construction firm Black & Veatch Management Consulting LLC, said on the side of the conference.

Trump’s election also prompted a discussion of potential impacts on cyber security.

Trump plans to protect vital U.S. infrastructure from cyberattacks as part of the Restoring Community Safety Act, which he plans to introduce after assuming the presidency on Jan. 20, 2017.

“Will we see any change in the federal government with respect to how it works with businesses on cyber?,” Jim Fama, an energy consultant hired by the Edison Electric Institute, said. Assuming Trump appoints a new chair of FERC, will he put in a chair that backs policies supportive of getting more transmission, Fama added.