State legislators close to agreement on multi-state transmission line siting compact

A panel of state legislators, federal agency representatives and other key stakeholders is nearing completion of an interstate compact that would streamline the siting of multi-state electric transmission lines.

The compact being developed through the Council of State Governments (CSG) by elected representatives from more than a dozen states along with representatives from industry groups, regional planning organizations and other stakeholders, is intended to serve as a policy option for state policymakers that will improve interstate transmission line siting for projects that touch three or more states.

“This is a very good mechanism for states to solve problems and deal with issues that cross their borders without kicking the ball to Washington to solve the problem for them,” North Dakota representative Kim Koppelman, one of the panel’s co-chairs, told TransmissionHub Sept. 18.

To that end, organizers believed it was important that the drafting team be made up of people who have first-hand knowledge of the realities of transmission line siting.

“We tried to strike a balance between elected state officials, stakeholder groups such as MISO and NARUC, industry, and federal officials,” Crady deGolian, director of the CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts, told TransmissionHub in an e-mail Sept. 19. “While the compact idea came from our membership (i.e., elected state officials) we realized quickly we couldn’t attempt to tackle this issue without the input of the folks who know the challenges and work in the field every day.”

Such agreements are specifically authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05), which granted the “consent of Congress for three or more contiguous states to enter into an interstate compact facilitating siting of future electric transmission facilities.”

When approved by the CSG and accepted by state legislatures, the compact will provide a mechanism for signatory states touched by multi-state transmission projects to come together in a streamlined process to review and potentially approve those projects.

The compact has the potential to be national in scope but regional in effect, Koppelman said, noting that, “Even though it has that national potential, it is designed specifically to be triggered in regional clusters.” Accordingly, he said, it does not need to be adopted by all 48 contiguous states to be effective.

Under the compact’s current language, the sponsor of a project that would cross three or more signatory states can request that its application be considered under the compact, or it can choose “to apply to each affected state under the state procedures otherwise applicable,” according to the most recent draft of the document dated Aug. 13.

If the developer chooses to proceed under the compact, the affected states would come together to review the application simultaneously, rather than send the project through the current process of reviewing the application individually.

Importantly, Koppelman said, the process would not involve states that aren’t directly affected, thus protecting the sovereignty of the involved states.

“In this compact, we’re making every effort to ensure that the authority of states to operate within their borders is not infringed,” he said. “States that aren’t involved won’t have any authority [over] a particular project.”

Key provisions

The most recent draft includes seven goals: simplify and standardize the application and filing process; create a streamlined process for review and decision making; allow states to consider regional benefits; minimize impediments and delays to the siting of interstate transmission lines; promote regional collaborative decision-making while providing the opportunity for public review and comments; preserve state sovereignty with respect to interstate transmission line siting; and create a forum for federal agencies and tribes to become part of the siting review process simultaneously with states.

The compact would create three levels of organization: a state project review panel (SPRP) within each member state to coordinate the views of different agencies and interests within the state; a combined multi-state siting authority (CMSSA) authorized to make siting decisions for that project; and an interstate compact commission (ICC), which provides administrative support and rulemaking capability.

A developer of a multi-state project that chooses to apply under the compact will only have to file one application with one of the states the project touches. That state will be responsible for forwarding the application to the other states involved.

Each of the states will then form an SPRP that will include representatives appointed by the governor, the legislature, and the state agency with siting authority.

Draft language includes provisions intended to expedite the process, including the convening of the CMSSA to review the application, providing that the initial application review process will be completed within 60 days of filing, and that the first hearing be held within 90 days of the initial filing.

Preliminary language requires that a second CMSSA meeting take place no more than 30 days after the initial decision on completeness. The second meeting will assess the merits of the application, including the proposed route, regional and national energy needs, and costs.

At least one public comment hearing shall be held in each of the affected member states, and must be competed within 120 days of the initial application filing.

The draft compact requires the CMSSA to conduct an evidentiary hearing, and to issue conditional or final approval “within 270 days of the filing of the application unless the applicant and the CMSSA agree to a different timeline.”

Draft language allows for differences from state to state. For example, the compact expressly permits any state, “based upon the rules of the involved states, [to] alter the route for the transmission line within its boundaries by assuming incremental costs.”

The document does not require states to surrender rights, stating that states “may issue orders within its respective jurisdiction and may initiate actions to compel compliance with the provisions of its respective statutes and regulations.”

The document also proposes procedures for resolving disputes administratively, but preserves the rights of aggrieved parties, expressly stating that such parties “shall be entitled to a hearing before the [ICC],” and are entitled to seek judicial review through district courts once administrative remedies are exhausted.

For his part, Koppelman is optimistic about the prospects for the compact.

“Compacts are always a little bit of a ‘tug-and-pull’ with regard to state sovereignty and interstate authority and cooperation,” he said. “You could make the argument that you’re giving up a bit of authority within the borders of your state [by signing on to the compact], but on the other hand, [states] are gaining authority where we have none because our sovereignty ends at our borders.”

Staff from CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts will host a session on the compact in conjunction with CSG’s National Conference Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Austin, Texas. Once compact language is finalized, it will be presented to state legislatures for their consideration and action. That step is anticipated starting in 2013.

This article was originally published Sept. 18, and was updated Sept. 19 to include comments from deGolian.