WAPA proposes updates to transmission infrastructure program, streamlining application process

The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) is seeking input on proposed updates to its Transmission Infrastructure Program (TIP), which has borrowing authority under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and technical resources to support the development of transmission projects that facilitate the delivery of renewable energy to markets in the West.

“The updates are intended to streamline the application process and find a better way to screen and evaluate proposed projects,” a WAPA spokesperson told TransmissionHub Sept. 27. “We’re looking to enhance the communication and make sure the process is a very transparent process for those who are applying to use [WAPA’s] borrowing authority.”

The proposed changes detail the procedural requirements necessary to advance proposals and outline how to promote additional interest from potential applicants that seek WAPA’s assistance to develop a project and use WAPA’s borrowing authority under ARRA.

“It wasn’t clearly laid out that, [after a developer] submitted their statement of interest, they would enter into a memorandum of understanding [(MOU)], an advanced funding agreement, and other things like that,” the spokesperson said. “What we’re trying to do with these updates is make it very clear what the process is.”

The updates detail that interested parties will submit a statement of interest, after which they will be presented with an MOU if their project meets project criteria. They will then be required to submit a business plan proposal and, if satisfactory to WAPA, they will then be invited to enter into an advanced funding agreement.

The changes would also integrate the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan programs office into the process.

Currently, the program operates under six project principles and four program principles that provide guidance in implementing the authority to borrow up to $3.25bn from the U.S. Treasury to fund projects that meet the criteria. Those principles require that the project facilitate the delivery of renewable energy to market, have at least one terminus located in WAPA’s service territory, and has the reasonable expectation that it will generate sufficient proceeds to cover all expenses and repay, with interest, the loan from the Treasury.

Other principles require that the project be in the public interest, that it uses a public process to set transmission rates, and will not adversely affect system reliability.

Since its establishment in 2009, TIP has helped support three transmission infrastructure projects that touch its territory, including the Electrical District 5-Palo Verde Hub Project and the TransWest Express project. The ED5-Palo Verde project, set to be completed in 2015, will add up to 410 MW of capacity between Phoenix, Ariz., and the Palo Verde nuclear generating station west of the city. The TransWest Express Project is a 725-mile, 3,000 MW transmission project designed to bring wind energy from south central Wyoming to southern Nevada.

WAPA’s TIP office also conducts regional planning and holds discussions necessary to support future projects and has signed advanced funding agreements with two project sponsors to engage in planning and development work: the Centennial West Clean Line and the Southline transmission project.

Centennial West is a 900-mile, 600-kV transmission line that will originate at Guadalupe, N.M., and terminate at Mira Loma, Calif. The Southline project consists of 360 miles of new 230-kV and 345-kV double circuit infrastructure that will connect Afton, N.M., to Saguaro, Ariz.

Through the funding agreements, project sponsors provide advance funding for WAPA’s project-related activities during the development phase. 

“Next generation electric transmission development can enhance electricity reliability, support the integration of renewable energy and strengthen our critical infrastructure,” Tracey LeBeau, WAPA’s acting TIP manager said in a statement.

The benefits of investing in transmission include saving consumers money on their energy bills, promoting renewable energy sources and supporting job creation, LeBeau added.

The proposed revisions to TIP were published in a Federal Register notice Sept. 27, opening a 30-day comment period. Comments may be submitted to WAPA by e-mail or U.S. mail and must be received by close of business Oct. 28 to be considered. The agency will post information about program developments on its website, including written comments submitted. 

After the comment period closes, WAPA will consider public feedback and finalize program updates, and will then solicit statements of interest from interested parties with project proposals.