Advancing President Barack Obama’s initiative to streamline transmission siting and permitting, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Aug. 29 issued a request for information (RFI) on a draft integrated, interagency pre-application (IIP) process for onshore transmission projects.
The RFI comes after a June 7 presidential memorandum, “Transforming our nation’s electric grid through improved siting, permitting, and review,” which directed DOE and the member agencies of the steering committee to develop an IIP process.
The IIP aims to build on the work of the Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT), an interagency group of senior staff established in 2011, and on Executive Order 13604, issued March 22, 2012, to improve the performance of federal review and permitting of infrastructure projects.
“The RRTT is working to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and predictability of transmission siting, permitting, and review processes, in part through increasing interagency coordination and transparency,” DOE said in the RFI. “An integrated pre-application process is one potential method to achieve these goals and to increase the predictability of the siting, permitting, and review processes.”
Comments are due by Sept. 30.
The IIP process is designed to take place early in a project’s development and before a developer would file an application for federal approval; to promote predictability; encourage early engagement; increase the use of integrated project planning; facilitate early identification of problematic issues; promote early planning for integrated and strategic mitigation plans; expedite siting, permitting and review processes; and improve environmental and cultural outcomes, DOE said in the RFI.
“We are particularly interested in whether the proposed IIP process efficiently meets the goals … stated in the [June 7] transmission presidential memorandum,” DOE said.
The IIP process is not designed to substitute but to inform the NEPA process, DOE said.
Qualifying projects include non-marine transmission lines of 230-kV and above or a regionally or nationally significant non-marine transmission line and its attendant facilities in which all or part of the proposed line is used in interstate commerce and crosses jurisdictions administered by more than one federal entity or administered by a federal entity and is considered for federal financial assistance, according to the RFI.
Qualifying projects don’t include those for which an application has been submitted to FERC for issuance of a permit for construction or modification of a transmission facility, or where a prefiling procedure has been initiated, DOE said.
If a developer has a project that is below 230-kV but is regionally or nationally significant, it may file an initiation request to be deemed a qualifying project, DOE said.
DOE would be lead agency for coordinating the IIP among all federal entities and project proponents.
A developer may elect to use or forgo the IIP process. If the latter, DOE said it must be informed in writing “as soon as practicable.”
If a developer chooses to use the IIP process, it must submit an initiation to DOE to [?] request to commence the IIP process. Information that the initiation request must have includes a description of the developer’s financial and technical capability; a detailed description of the project; a list of potentially affected federal and non-federal entities; detailed maps and geospatial information; and regional transmission planning documents.
Four coordinated meetings
Based on the initiation request, DOE would identify an initial list of federal entities that would participate in the IIP process and would disseminate necessary information to them.
“Federal entities will be expected to attend all IIP process meetings,” DOE said.
The IIP would include four meetings – the initial, study corridor, routing and final meetings – to help reduce siting conflicts that could delay application processing.
The initial meeting would take place as soon as a developer had identified a project’s endpoints and any substations in between, but before potential study corridors or routes have been identified, DOE said.
At this meeting, the federal entities involved would identify potential environmental siting constraints, cultural and historic concerns, impacts on low-income communities and other considerations.
After the initial meeting, the developer would develop potential study corridors and receive feedback from the DOE and any involved federal and nonfederal entities. Afterward, the developer would submit a study corridor meeting request to DOE.
After the study corridor meeting, during which the developer would refine the potential routes within the study corridors, the developer would submit a routing meeting request to DOE.
The routing meeting would require the developer to provide more details for each potential route, and the final meeting would include the identified potential proposed routes within the study corridor that the developer intends to include in the project application.
“The final meeting will result in a description by federal entities of the remaining key issues of concern and areas that represent potential high, medium, or low resource conflicts that could impact the time for which it takes federal agencies to process applications for a proposed facility within the identified study corridors,” DOE said. “[N]o agency would or could determine prior to the formal NEPA process that the project proponent’s proposed of preferred study corridors and routes presented or discussed during the IIP process would constitute a reasonable range of alternatives for NEPA purposes.”
The project developer would be required to submit quarterly progress updates to DOE after the initial meeting. Within 60 days of the initial meeting, the developer would be required to submit a draft public outreach plan.