FERC provides course to Congress on building transmission

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Monday, August 10, 2020

 Staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered a report to Congress Friday outlining the opportunities and challenges of building large-scale transmission lines.

The report, required as part of an appropriations law enacted in December, reiterated the importance of transmission in helping meet clean energy goals by delivering wind and solar from oftentimes rural areas where the power is generated to population centers. Transmission is also poised to play a more important role as policymakers look to electrify other parts of the economy, such as transportation and buildings.

The report highlights how transmission can improve the reliability and resilience of the grid by enabling a region to access additional generation in the event that local generation is unavailable, and can aid with restoration after an outage.

It recommends that federal and state policymakers promote transmission development by encouraging better collaboration and planning between regions.

Barriers are plenty: But FERC staffers note the federal government, unlike with natural gas pipelines, has little power to approve transmission, with the authorities mostly delegated to states.

The complex siting process, oftentimes plagued by not-in-my-backyard-ism, or NIMBYism, can take more than a decade, the report notes, as states where power lines would need to be built but don’t necessarily benefit from using or generating the power have little incentive to approve them.

Another problem the report cites is loopholes in the implementation of FERC “Order 1000,” the commission’s transmission incentives policy. That FERC order, issued in July 2011, tried to encourage competitive bidding among developers, but the report notes there is an increase in projects receiving exceptions to competitive processes. Additionally, since the order started, developers have tended to focus on reliability and local needs for building transmission without thinking about the larger regional and public policy interests, like its potential to help curb emissions.

The report also flags barriers to developing transmission as part of existing rights-of-way granted to highways and rail projects, which proponents say could save costs and be more efficient by limiting siting needs.

Some states, the report notes, prohibit building transmission in highway rights-of-way.