The siting process for transmission lines could be simplified by eliminating the multiple state agencies involved in approving applications, according to a recent white paper.
The Energy Foundation in a paper released on Sept. 16, “Siting: Finding a Home for Renewable Energy and Transmission,” made a series of recommendations to accelerate the timeline for siting energy infrastructure.
“A single agency could be established in each state to ensure that permit requirements are not duplicated, but that the process includes all-important considerations,” authors Carl Zichella, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Johnathan Hladik, Center for Rural Affairs said. “A one-stop-shopping approach to siting in each state would greatly expedite and enhance siting for interstate transmission.”
The paper comprises one of seven papers that make up America’s Power Plan,
Policymakers should optimize existing grid infrastructure; fully use available planning processes; employ “Smart from the Start” criteria; improve interagency, interstate and federal to state coordination; work with landowners to develop new options for private lands; and refine the process to support siting offshore wind developments, the authors said.
Taking advantage of existing infrastructure first will mitigate the need for new transmission lines, thereby conserving capital expense and reducing the footprint of development, the authors said.
The transmission planning stage, which can identify issues that will need to be addressed when a project enters siting considerations, should also inform siting efforts, they said. Specific issues that arise include transmission expansion needed to facilitate meeting expected load with available resources; policy initiatives such as renewable portfolio standards (RPS); environmental and cultural risks; economic variables such as fuel prices and emission costs and their effects on resource choices; and resource and transmission capital costs, according to the paper.
Siting transmission, and other infrastructure, in the United States is a notoriously difficult task. Following Texas’ example, states in the West have created renewable energy “zones” to help accelerate the siting process.
“Establishing renewable energy development zones remains in its infancy in the Eastern Interconnection, owing to the fact that the region is far more complex: with three times as many states, far less federal public land and a much more diverse set of wildlife and environmental management regimes,” the authors said.
The paper also calls for mitigating landowner opposition by engaging public opinion and feedback early in the siting process, before a route application is submitted for approval to the relevant state regulatory commissions.
“Early buy-in from affected stakeholders is important, so they do not hear about the project for the first time during the required public comment period under NEPA,” the authors said. “By involving stakeholders earlier, developers can benefit from decreased opposition and early identification of major conflicts and proposed solutions.”
FERC backstop siting authority can play an important psychological role in encouraging states to coordinate and lead in transmission planning, making it a useful siting tool, the authors said.
The paper acknowledged that FERC was granted backstop siting authority, but that authority was challenged in court, effectively rendering it moot.
One of the most potent arguments against FERC’s backstop siting authority was the indiscriminate way that DOE originally defined its National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC) in EPAct 2005, according to the authors. Those corridors encompassed entire eastern states as well as most of Arizona and southern California. State and public opposition was understandable and should have been expected, the authors said.
“But FERC backstop siting authority could be very effective for Order 1000 transmission lines,” they said. “The Order 1000 process involves states and regional planners, considers environmental and cultural risks by using regional planning data, and ensures that alternative solutions are weighed.