Obama administration to select 7 transmission projects as pilots to improve federal review

An interagency “rapid response team” on transmission will soon select seven transmission line projects as pilots to improve federal review, Jason Bordoff, associate director for energy and climate change with the Council on Environmental Quality, said Sept. 22.

Locations and other information about the seven projects are not yet known, Bordoff told TransmissionHub.

President Barack Obama on Aug. 31 issued a presidential memorandum, directing departments and agencies to identify high-impact, job-creating infrastructure projects that can be expedited through outstanding review and permitting processes, according to a statement from the White House.

Ten federal agencies have designated senior staff to serve on rapid response teams that coordinate rapid response capability across the federal agencies for renewable energy and transmission projects at critical agency review points.

“The rapid response team for transmission “will coordinate and improve the federal review of these seven projects, which are estimated to bring thousands of jobs, transform the nation’s electric infrastructure and [help] move it to the 21st century grid that we’re all striving for, which is safer, more secure and more reliable and gives consumers greater choice and control over their energy choices,” Bordoff said, speaking in Washington, D.C., at the 3rd annual Renewable Energy Technology Conference & Exhibition, hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy and organized by TradeFair Group.

In October 2009, nine federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding to improve coordination among project applicants, federal agencies, states and tribes involved in siting and permitting electric transmission facilities on federal land, according to the White House. The rapid response teams build on that cooperation, Bordoff said.

Another speaker, David Flynn, partner with Phillips Lytle, said the requirement for political will is “very significant” for renewable energy projects.

“We’re seeing it at the federal level, at the state and even at the local level,” he said. “Are there people who are advocates for renewable energy projects that are willing to take some of the heat for saying, ‘It’s going to cost a little bit more,’ or, ‘People are going to have to suffer some degree of visual impact, but it’s for a greater good, it’s for a net benefit,’ and…help the project through, [or are they] just crumbling at the first sign of opposition,” he said.

The industry has evolved from an early stage where there were not a lot of issues, concerns, laws or regulations that govern the siting and permitting of renewable energy facilities to its current state, where there are “some fairly robust and detailed” regulatory programs and laws.

“Sometimes, we have laws, regulations and strategies that in fact conflict and create more difficulty and more issues in the permitting and siting process,” Flynn added. 

He said it is important early on to identify what are a project’s siting needs. A project may have its own issues in terms of community acceptance and environmental concerns, but oftentimes, they may be secondary to the very same community acceptance and environmental concerns associated with the infrastructure to get the energy from the project to the grid. Such elements as transmission towers can draw as much or more attention as the project itself, he said.

“It is better to deal with it holistically – the turbines and cables – as a single project,” he said, speaking with TransmissionHub. “It may be more difficult to launch at the front end, but once you get all the approvals, it will be easier.”

Among other things, Flynn said that as renewable projects are often difficult to site, permit and build, an upfront investment as well as detailed, flexible siting and permitting plans are critical to a successful project.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3201 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.