Rep. Sensenbrenner legislation to require regional transmission planning, expand FERC’s power

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) will introduce legislation to require a “single, comprehensive regional plan” to address interstate transmission line siting and give FERC more authority over transmission expansion.

Addressing the WIRES group during its summer meeting July 11-12, Sensenbrenner said his proposed legislation will address some of FERC Order 1000’s shortcomings, though it shouldn’t be construed as a response to or replacement of the commission’s rule.

Sensenbrenner in 2010 introduced H.R. 5515, Powering America for Tomorrow Act, to amend the Federal Power Act to establish a regional transmission planning process. The bill died, but Sensenbrenner reintroduced it in 2011 as H.R. 3280. That bill also died.

Sensenbrenner is looking for co-sponsors of the current iteration of his legislation, a source confirmed with TransmissionHub on July 12.

The transcript of his address to the WIRES group follows.

“I thank WIRES for allowing me to be a part of the summer meeting today. Over the years, I have built a wonderful working relationship with your group, as well as with [American Transmission Company (ATC)], and I think it is great they are hosting this event at their headquarters. I have no doubt that ATC has extended some Wisconsin hospitality to all of you. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to indulge in some of our best guilty pleasures – Beer, Brats, and of course, Fried Cheese Curds.

I’m here to provide perspective on how the federal government, and Congress in particular, can work to update our electric transmission system.

The power needs of the United States have grown tremendously over the last several decades. In fact, since 1980, the demand for electricity has more than doubled. And projections for the coming years show that Americans will have an even greater need for electricity in the future.

However, years of inaction have left us with a grid that is ill-equipped to maintain the electric reliability that we’ve grown accustomed to. I know that my constituents expect the lights to turn on when they flip the switch, and I’ll hear about it at my Town Hall Meetings if they begin to experience otherwise.

Calls for Washington to bring the electric grid into the 21st Century have, in large part, fallen on deaf ears. Hot button issues, like gun control, immigration reform, and NSA spying have monopolized much of the Beltway’s attention. Energy policy, on the other hand, seems to have found its spot on the back burner. In 2005 and 2007, respectively, Congress made crafting a national energy policy a priority. Good or bad, at least it was part of the national dialogue. Since then, however, Congress has been eerily quiet on continuing this discussion.

I can tell you that this does not have to be the case. I have heard your concerns. Inaction by Congress is unacceptable, and I believe that not only should something be done, but it must be done. As in previous years, I have worked extensively with WIRES to ensure that our electric infrastructure will adequately met the power needs of America’s future. The idea is simple. We must expand our view of the electric transmission system, and allow for easier regional planning of this system.

Next week, I will again introduce important legislation that will streamline the process for building transmission lines. Similar to legislation that I have authored in the past, this bill will address the shortcomings in the siting of interstate transmission lines. Traditionally, the siting of these lines has been the prerogative of the States. My legislation preserves this. But it also recognizes that lines do cross state boundaries, and there is a need for a simplified determination of whether these lines are in the public interest. My legislation creates this process.

Coordination is necessary to ensuring the power needs of Americans are met. That is why my legislation requires all designated regions within the Eastern and Western Interconnect to have a Regional Transmission Planner. This regionally based planning structure will develop and administer a single, comprehensive regional plan to promote [an] effective framework for the interstate transmission system.

These regional planners will work in conjunction with FERC to create a plan that maintains and enhances the reliability, energy security, and economic benefits of the transmission system. By opening this dialogue, we will enable the regional planners and FERC to adapt and flourish as the grid continues to expand and new technologies are adopted.

FERC has taken steps forward in breaking down some of the barriers that your industry faces through its Order 1000. However, as with any major regulation, legal challenges, as well as its real world application, leave uncertainty to how this order will actually affect the transmission industry’s landscape. Additionally, current law limits FERC’s ability to address all the problems facing your industry.

My legislation shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for Order 1000, nor was it drafted in response to it. Instead, through my work with WIRES, we have identified areas where shortcomings in the current law prevent FERC from moving forward with the reform to transmission planning that we really need.

I again thank you for allowing me to address your group, and look forward to continuing to work with WIRES in making our transmission system responsive to the power needs of the United States, not only today, but for the foreseeable future.” 

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.