Model Legislation Aims at Regional Collaboration on Power Line Siting
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is undertaking an initiative to develop sample legislation that would encourage regional collaboration among state utility commissions on issues tied to the siting of transmission lines, Matthew Brown, energy program director at the NCSL, said.
"I guess our general take on this issue is that state siting processes can and do work, but there's a real need to really encourage states to work together on a regional basis in transmission siting," Brown said in an appearance before a FERC-sponsored technical conference last Wednesday examining wind power.
Typically, state utility commissioners are "reluctant to work with neighboring states without some kind of authority or encouragement from their state legislature to do so," he said at the conference. "So we are trying to encourage that kind of regional perspective in transmission siting."
In an interview with NGI, Brown said that he expects that NCSL will have the sample legislation completed by the end of January.
At the FERC conference, Brown also noted that NCSL is looking at helping states to find ways to improve their own transmission siting processes. "As an example, the state of Kansas has a siting process for transmission that says that there is no requirement that a transmission owner, transmission builder, acquire a new permit for an upgrade of an existing line or new lines on existing rights-of-way." He said that there are a couple of states that have this kind of provision in place.
Brown said at the conference that NCSL is working with several sister state organizations "to try to essentially to find ways to improve the state siting process for transmission." Those sister organizations include the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the National Association of State Energy Officials and the National Governors Association.
When asked by NGI whether his organization has a position on whether FERC should have backstop transmission siting authority, Brown said that NCSL has a "pretty strong position" that states should continue to have control over transmission siting.
He said that there are "a lot of questions" about backstop siting authority and the way it would be structured. "When would it take hold? It's not really clear, in some of the proposals, at least. Most of the proposals have been essentially saying -- and I'm going to simplify here -- if somebody doesn't like what's happening at the state level they'll bring it to the federal level, so they can essentially forum shop...As you might expect, from a state-based organization, we are not big fans of the federal government taking control over that."
Meanwhile, a number of states are taking a closer look at establishing transmission authorities to ease the development of new power lines.
Such an entity has already been set up in Wyoming and several other states are taking a closer look at following in Wyoming's footsteps, including North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah and Montana, Brown noted.
North Dakota's Industrial Commission in September announced that it is ready to support state legislation to create a transmission authority as a means of streamlining the development of new electricity grid facilities.
Brown said that he "wouldn't be surprised" if additional states consider setting up transmission authorities down the road.
"But, keep in mind, this is one of those mechanisms that's particularly attractive to states that have [a] relatively weak ability to export power," the NCSL official noted in the interview. "So this is kind of a power export economic development kind of policy. It's not the kind of thing that I would necessarily expect to see as much of in, say, the New England states or the...Mid-Atlantic states."
Transmission authorities are something that Brown would "expect to see particularly in the some of the states like the Dakotas where they've got very big...wind and coal resources" and are interested in exporting these resources to other regions.