President Barack Obama on June 7 signed a presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to identify and improve the use of energy corridors on federal lands that are most suitable for siting electric transmission projects, to help expedite permitting while improving environmental and community outcomes.
The June 7 entry on the White House Blog further noted that those energy corridors are designed to reduce regulatory conflicts, minimize negative impacts on natural and cultural resources and address concerns of local communities, decreasing the potential for permitting delays.
The memorandum also prioritizes meaningful engagement with stakeholders and the public to arrive at the best quality projects with the least conflicts and most support, the blog said. Transmission projects often cover hundreds of miles and involve multiple federal, tribal, state and local jurisdictions with diverse interests and responsibilities, the blog noted.
Collaborating early to minimize duplication and delays is key to getting critical projects to construction to better serve American homes and businesses.
The memorandum also directs federal agencies to create an integrated pre-application process across the federal government to help identify and address issues before the formal permit application process begins, and streamline the coordination of permitting process across the federal, state and tribal governments, the blog added.
According to the memorandum, Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Interior to undertake a continued effort to identify and designate such energy corridors.
Energy corridors include areas on federal lands that are most suitable for siting transmission projects because the chosen areas minimize regulatory conflicts and impacts on environmental and cultural resources, and address concerns of local communities.
The memorandum further noted that the secretaries are to collaborate with member agencies of the Steering Committee on Federal Infrastructure Permitting and Review Process Improvement, which is to provide prompt and adequate information to ensure that additional corridor designations and revisions are consistent with the statutory responsibilities and activities of the member agencies and allow timely actions by the secretaries.
Also, the secretaries are to focus on facilitating renewable energy resources and improving grid resiliency and comply with the requirements in Section 368 by ensuring that energy corridors address the need for upgraded and new electric transmission and distribution facilities to improve reliability, relieve congestion and enhance the capability of the national grid to deliver electricity.
The memorandum also said that the secretaries are to strongly encourage the use of designated energy corridors on federal land in the western states where the energy corridors are consistent with the requirements in the memorandum and other applicable requirements, unless it can be demonstrated that a project cannot be built within a designated corridor due to resource constraints on federal lands.
Among other things, the memorandum said that by Sept. 1, 2014, the secretaries are to provide the steering committee with updated recommendations regarding designating energy corridors in non-western states.
“Upgrading our nation’s electric transmission grid is critical to advancing the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to build an economy fueled by homegrown and clean energy sources produced by American workers,” the blog said. “With the help of the administration’s unprecedented investments in clean energy, we have already met the bold goal the president laid out in 2008 to double renewable energy generation in this country. Improving our electrical transmission grid will make electricity more reliable, save consumers money, improve U.S. competitiveness, and move us a step closer to achieving the president’s goal of doubling domestic renewable electricity again by 2020.”
According to the blog, the steps taken through the memorandum build on the best practices identified by the administration’s interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission, which since 2011 has brought together federal agencies to identify ways to improve efficiencies and coordination in the permitting and review processes for transmission projects.
As part of that rapid response effort, the Obama administration said in October 2011 that it would accelerate the permitting and construction of seven proposed electric transmission lines that cross 12 states including Oregon, Wisconsin and New Jersey.