DOE aiming to improve transmission application process among federal agencies

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Jan. 21 released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) designed to improve early coordination among federal agencies and transmission project developers where multiple federal agencies need to review transmission projects.

Besides improving coordination, the effort should help ensure project developers submit accurate and complete information early in the project planning process, DOE said.

DOE’s Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability released the NOPR on the Integrated Interagency Pre-Application Process (IIP) for transmission facilities.

The step meets a goal of the Obama administration and DOE to modernize the power grid and make the transmission siting and review process more efficient, DOE said.

The NOPR followed a June 7, 2013, Presidential Memorandum to address several transmission permitting issues, DOE noted. The memorandum directed federal agencies to create the IIP process across the federal government to help identify and address issues before permit applications are made, and to improve coordination among federal, state and tribal governments.

The IIP process is voluntary, with transmission project developers choosing to utilize the process through an “initiation request” to DOE, and DOE will determine that a developer has provided sufficient information before beginning its coordination functions, DOE said.

Among the benefits of the proposal are that it “would help reduce application review and decision-making timelines,” according to the NOPR.

The IIP proposal also would “help transmission developers determine the likelihood that they would successfully obtain permits, which is necessary to make their proposed project successful in the competitive, regional transmission planning process,” the agency said in the NOPR.

Under Section 216(h) of the Federal Power Act, DOE coordinates federal authorizations and environmental reviews needed for interstate transmission projects, including the process under the National Environmental Policy Act, DOE noted.

The NOPR provides a framework for DOE to facilitate early exchange of environmental information required to site transmission facilities, DOE said.

“The proposed regulations also provide an opportunity for non-federal agencies (tribal, state or local governments) to coordinate separate non-federal permitting and environmental reviews with that of the federal permitting agencies,” DOE said.

By coordinating the preparation of a resources report within the IIP, DOE will facilitate efficient preparation of a single environmental review document that all agencies could utilize to inform their respective decision-making roles, according to the NOPR.

DOE noted that although it posted the NOPR on its website, the NOPR had not yet been published in the Federal Register, and if there is any discrepancy among the two documents, the NOPR published in the Federal Register will be the controlling document.

DOE will take comments on the NOPR, with a comment deadline of 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, and it will hold a public workshop on the proposal on a date to be determined.