DOE proposes framework for national transmission corridors to spur new lines, ease grid congestion

Source: By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive • Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The proposal would allow transmission developers to apply for project-specific corridors, unlocking potential federal funding, the department said Tuesday.

The Department of Energy on Tuesday released a proposed framework for designating National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors, or NIETCs, for specific transmission projects.

The corridors would be established in areas where DOE has determined new or upgraded power lines would benefit consumers by easing existing or future constraints that limit the ability to move power to where it is needed, the department said in a notice of intent and request for information. Transmission developers would apply for the corridor designation.

“Designation of NIETCs can assist in focusing commercial facilitation, signal opportunities for beneficial development to transmission planning entities, and unlock siting and permitting tools for transmission projects,” DOE said.

The creation of transmission corridors is one way to spur new power lines, according to DOE. More transmission capacity is needed to respond to more frequent extreme weather, provide access to clean electricity and meet new electricity demands driven by electrification of end-use sectors like transportation and industry, the department said.

The U.S. transmission system needs to expand by 1.3 to 2.9 times to meet the Biden administration’s goal of having 100% emissions-free electricity by 2035, the DOE said, citing estimates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Transmission projects in a national corridor can use the DOE’s $2.5 billion Transmission Facilitation Program and the $2 billion Transmission Facility Financing Program established by the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. 

An NIETC designation would also allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue permits for transmission lines in a corridor when state regulators lack the authority to site the line, have not acted on an application to site the line for over a year, or have denied an application, DOE said. FERC is reviewing comments to its proposed changes to its backstop siting authority for transmission projects in national corridors.

Under DOE’s proposal, transmission developers could apply for an NIETC designation in areas where the department has identified transmission needs through its National Transmission Needs Study, which the department expects to issue late this summer. DOE plans to release guidance on how to apply for national corridor designation in the fall.

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DOE expects that proposed corridors will be for transmission projects that have advanced to the stage where developers are routing the project and engaging in community and landowner outreach, according to the notice. 

Besides transmission developers, DOE said it is considering opening the pool of potential corridor applicants to tribal authorities, states, non-transmission-owning utilities, local governments and generation developers.

DOE asked for comments on its proposed requirements for NIETC applications and its review process. It also wants responses to a series of questions, including how frequently it should accept applications and whether it should explicitly seek proposals for interregional transmission projects.