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ATC CEO: FERC Backstop Transmission Siting Authority No Silver Bullet

New backstop transmission siting authority given to FERC in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) will not be a "silver bullet" and, if improperly applied, that authority could become "one of the biggest roadblocks that we have to construction" of power lines, Jose Delgado, CEO of American Transmission Co. (ATC), said last Wednesday.

Delgado worries that the new backstop siting authority for transmission "will create what to us is a very significant risk," namely a "tremendous amount of conflict" between the federal government and the states. He made his comments at an Infocast energy conference held in Washington, DC.

At the same time, Delgado said that just the threat of FERC having backstop transmission authority "has already created what I think is the most effective way of doing it, which is adjacent state coordination where it's much more possible to find common interests and be able to work them out."

FERC Commissioner Nora Brownell said that "I think it will be great if the states can get it together on a regional basis and approve multi-state transmission lines. But we site pipelines. Pipelines get built. We know how to do it, and we're prepared to do it and we will work very hard to make sure the regulations are in place," she said in reference to the backstop electric transmission siting authority.

"I frankly think they're going to get utilized more often than not," Brownell said. "Were I a local official or a local commissioner, I'm not sure I'd really want to be siting transmission."

Sam Ervin, a commissioner with the North Carolina Utility Commission, said "I think you've got the same issues regardless of who has the siting authority." He said that "regardless of who has the authority to site, you've got the same set of problems in each instance."

In many parts of the country "local opposition is growing to lines," Ervin said. This opposition is "not going to change, regardless of who has the siting authority. It may actually make it harder in some respects because we can deal with local citizens in different ways than Washington bureaucrats can."

Also, "somebody's got to come in and propose a project. And you can have all the process in the world ready to go and if no applicant makes a decision that they want to build a project, it's not going to get built."

Meanwhile, Steve Waddington, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said that federal backstop authority is "not very popular in the West. Western states tend to believe they can control their own destiny."

However, Waddington personally believes that the backstop authority "is a good idea...in part because I think it will encourage multiple state compacts or other means and I'll use the Frontier line by way of example."

California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming this spring announced the creation of a multi-state memorandum of understanding agreement for encouraging development of a new interstate, high-voltage transmission power line -- the Frontier line -- from the Rockies into California. The primary purpose of the new line will be to move added wind-generated and clean coal-fired electricity supplies into load centers in the West.

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