DOE issues RFI to solve ‘Catch-22’ of transmission/generation construction gap

The U.S. Energy Department’s (DOE) Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability on Feb. 27 issued a request for information (RFI) on permitting transmission lines. 

“This Request for Information is focused on making the development times for generation and transmission to be more commensurate with one another,” the DOE said. 

Comments are due March 28. 

In the RFI, the DOE highlighted three problems that may arise in the development of long-distance transmission lines designed to bring “cleaner, more diverse fuel sources” to load areas: non-synchronous evaluations by all governmental entities with jurisdiction; uncertainty about whether all necessary permits and approvals will be received; and significantly different development times for generation and transmission. 

“The differential in development times between generation and transmission creates a Catch-22 that inhibits the development of both,” the DOE said, noting a Catch-22 doesn’t exist if a load-serving entity is developing both generation and transmission. “While generation developers need assurance that transmission will be built before they will commit to building the generation, the transmission developers need a commitment that the generation will be built. As the differential in development times increases, the Catch-22 deepens, thereby hampering the building the infrastructure this nation needs.”

In 2009, nine federal agencies signed a joint memorandum of understanding (MOU) to coordinate their review of electric transmission on federal lands. 

In 2011, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum stating that agencies should “ensure that their processes for reviewing infrastructure proposals work efficiently to protect the environment, provide for public participation and certainty of process, ensure safety, and support vital economic growth.”

Later in 2011, Obama created a Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT) to improve the overall quality and timeliness of electric transmission infrastructure permitting, review and consultation by the federal government on both federal and non-federal lands. 

Building upon the presidential memorandum and in support of the RRTT, the DOE’s Office of Electricity seeks information on some questions related to permitting of transmission lines, the DOE said.

The DOE asked respondents to comment on the challenges created both by the timeline for obtaining regulatory permits for transmission and by the incongruent development times (the difference in development times between generation and transmission), and strategies the government could take to reduce the time that federal agencies require for evaluating regulatory permits for transmission, among other things