Industry members: Planned interstate compact for transmission siting ‘a good start’

Industry leaders are applauding efforts to develop an interstate compact that is being developed through the Council of State Governments (CSG) to streamline the siting of multi-state electric transmission lines, but are stopping short of fully supporting the document.

“It is gratifying to know that policymakers are making efforts to address a terribly complex, time-consuming, and expensive process,” Jeff Malmen, Idaho Power vice president of public affairs, told TransmissionHub in a Sept. 19 e-mail.

The draft compact is a 32-page document being developed as a way to improve interstate transmission line siting for projects that touch three or more states.

Even though it is still in draft form, others agreed that the efforts are a valuable first step.

“Clearly, we haven’t made any progress on federal siting legislation” since EPAct05, he said, “so if the states can think more broadly in terms of a compact, I think that’s a good start,” Jimmy Glotfelty, executive vice president of external affairs for Clean Line Energy Partners, told TransmissionHub. “There are a lot of things a compact could do,”

Regional and operational differences will likely make a compact more valuable to some organizations and areas, and less valuable to others.

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), for example, develops transmission projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, which requires coordination with state energy facility siting councils. As a result, BPA already “works very extensively with the states when siting transmission projects,” a spokesperson told TransmissionHub.

BPA and its process notwithstanding, compact developers believe the document could have its greatest impact in the West which, except for the California ISO, lacks regional transmission organizations that can facilitate and coordinate planning across broad regions.

Other leaders see other challenges that a compact might not be able to address.

“In the West, it’s tough [because] you have large portions of federal land, you have large portions of state land,” Glotfelty said. “A compact under a state regulatory regime wouldn’t necessarily solve problems on federal lands but it might create more coordinated time frames for … things that give developers some certainty around the timing of the process.”

Still others are deferring judgment until the compact language is finalized.

“The basic idea of interstate compacts could be powerful for both states and the industry. The Constitution acknowledges their usefulness and as late as 2005, Congress urged states to implement them,” Jim Hoecker, former FERC chair and counsel to the industry group WIRES told TransmissionHub, adding “It’s premature to comment on the council’s approach but I like the fact they’re working on this.”

Because of its composition and challenges, supporters plan to target Western state legislators once the compact is finalized and ready for presentation to lawmakers.

“It’s always a little hard to predict [but] a ‘pretty good’ response rate during [the first] legislative session is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 states,” Crady deGolian, director of the CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts, told TransmissionHub. “Given the fact that probably most of the focus will be in the West and in the Midwest …  I think we could probably hope to achieve somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to 10 states [during the first legislative session] if things go well.”

The compact is being developed by elected representatives from more than a dozen states along with representatives from industry groups, regional planning organizations and other stakeholders.

Once compact language is finalized, the compact will be presented to state legislatures for their consideration and action. That step is anticipated to begin in 2013.