WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced a bill today, S. 1017, to amend the 80-year old Federal Power Act to provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) narrow authority to approve and site new priority electric transmission lines in cases where local or state approval processes have been unsuccessful. Ensuring that transmission projects get timely regulatory approvals, especially when there are multiple jurisdictions involved, is critical to building a robust 21st century transmission infrastructure and realizing our nation's true clean energy potential.
"There should be no doubt that realizing our nation's clean energy potential will only be possible when we have the transmission capacity in place to deliver that power to market," said Sen. Heinrich. "Our system of power transmission and federal regulation were designed for an era that no longer exists. An era where energy flowed in one direction, from central generation thru transmission and distribution lines to homes and businesses where it was consumed. Now, customers are generators and the industry has new responsibilities to provide advanced technologies and improve security. This bill will ensure that the regulatory structure is in place to modernize our nation's electric grid, create new jobs, and harness our innovative clean energy potential in America."
Under FERC's order 1000, a rule that reformed the Commission's electric transmission planning and cost allocation requirements, each public utility transmission provider must participate in a regional planning process and produce a regional plan. Order 1000 also requires transmission providers to develop methods for allocating the costs of a new regional transmission facility among those who will use or benefit from it.
Senator Heinrich's bill would require developers of new priority regional transmission projects to first seek approval from local or state authorities to site and construct the project. If local or state approval is not provided within one year or in cases where a state does not have legal authority to consider or approve a project under state law, the bill would allow FERC to step in and provide backstop authority.
However, FERC would have to first determine that the proposed regional project is in the public interest and advances public policy goals, including supporting the development of new, cleaner power generation; reducing emissions like carbon pollution, and enhancing competition and reliability. FERC would also be required to conduct a full public process to review the project and perform all required federal authorizations, such as those under the National Environmental Protection Act and for the use of any federal lands, including Indian Land. The siting authority does not apply to the states of Alaska or Hawaii, which do not have transmission lines that interconnect with any other state.
A copy of the bill is available here.