Legislation reintroduced to expand FERC’s backstop siting authority

Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. reintroduced a bill that would provide FERC with greater backstop authority to ensure the construction of “regionally significant lines.”

Sensenbrenner on Oct. 27 introduced H.R. 3280, a reintroduction of H.R. 5515, or the Powering America for Tomorrow Act, which was originally introduced in June 2010.

“There are a few technical changes, but the bill does the same thing,” a spokesperson for Sensenbrenner told TransmissionHub Nov. 1.

The bill’s purpose is to streamline the construction of power lines across state borders by “formalizing a planning process through regional planning entities that regularly submit a comprehensive plan for regional transmission needs and development,” according to Sensenbrenner’s office.

The bill addresses transmission planning, siting and cost allocation.

With respect to siting, the legislation clarifies FERC’s federal backstop authority to allow the Commission to overrule a denial by the state to site a line within one year.

However, the bill says that states “retain exclusive authority over siting transmission facilities that are designed to replace or update existing facilities, or are determined by the regional transmission planner to not provide a regional economic and reliability benefit.”

The bill also eliminates the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor process (NIETC) to expand FERC backstop authority nationwide, “thus eliminating the politicization of the NIETC process that has beleaguered the current backstop authority.”  

With respect to cost allocation, the bill would grant FERC the authority to issue regulations on how to allocate costs on a regional basis for any regional transmission expansion or upgrade. FERC would have to consider discussions of cost allocation currently underway by existing entities, the bill allows.

With respect to planning, the bill would require regions within the Eastern and Western Interconnections to have an approved regional transmission planner to administer and develop a single regional plan for the development of the interstate transmission system. Each plan must take into consideration the views of local and state policymakers and market participants.

Regional planners will submit to FERC plans that maintain and enhance the economic, reliability and energy security benefits of the transmission system, and that anticipate and facilitate the development of electric generation from diverse energy resources.

Upon submission and approval of a fully documented plan, FERC can issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the construction or modification of necessary transmission facilities.

The legislation does not specify geographic boundaries of the regions, how each region establishes its planning entity, nor the operating parameters for each entity, “ensuring a flexible approach in how each area approaches the development of the entity.”

About Rosy Lum 525 Articles
Rosy Lum, Analyst for TransmissionHub, has been covering the U.S. energy industry since 2007. She began her career in energy journalism at SNL Financial, for which she established a New York news desk. She covered topics ranging from energy finance and renewable policies and incentives, to master limited partnerships and ETFs. Thereafter, she honed her energy and utility focus at the Financial Times' dealReporter, where she covered and broke oil and gas and utility mergers and acquisitions.