What happens if the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) designates a national interest electric transmission corridor (NIETC) in the United States and nobody steps forward with a proposed transmission project? A DOE official last Tuesday said this scenario would be a "challenge," noting the lack of "carrots and sticks" available to address such a situation, at least at the federal level. States and regions should start thinking about how they would respond to such an eventuality, said the DOE's Poonum Agrawal.

"That is a challenge, that if we do make a designation and no projects do get proposed to address that corridor, what do we do," said Agrawal, manager for markets and technical information at the DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. She made her comments in an appearance before the eighth annual transmission summit sponsored by Infocast and held in Virginia.

Agrawal doesn't see "carrots and sticks" available to address such a possibility other than pulling together a "black list" and saying "these are designated corridors -- look, no one's done anything about it -- states, regions, stakeholders, what are you guys doing to address this constraint?"

This is "something for the states and regions to think about in terms of here's a problem -- what are we going to do about it -- in terms of impacting the consumers" when it comes to congestion costs, for example.

When asked to clarify the definition of corridor, Agrawal said the DOE is grappling with "how do you bound the corridor." The DOE wants to develop a system "or some process and corridor definition that will make it very clear and cut and dry" as to either "here's where the corridor is or here's where the project proposed is relative to that corridor and you can say very clearly that this project impacts this corridor in this way..."

Agrawal said that it's a "little bit premature" to make a call on how many corridor designations may ultimately occur. "I think that question will still be there until we can establish what exactly we will be defining as a corridor," she said. "We don't want to lessen the value of a designation by making too many of them, but exactly how many that is, we're not exactly sure yet."

As it goes about trying to define a corridor, the DOE is considering whether it should be a generalized geographic area or whether it should be project-based, Agrawal noted. One of the questions the agency is chewing over is whether a project-specific corridor designation would give "undue advantage" to the project that is proposed relative to other projects.

Meanwhile, Agrawal said that the DOE feels that new transmission lines "aren't the only solution to congestion and reliability concerns." Non-wires solutions "can also help alleviate such problems."

When asked to expand on this comment, she said that the DOE "will not be getting into what the solutions are to the problems that exist. Our role is really to identify where the problems are in the studies that we're doing..." From the DOE's perspective, it's the role of the states and others "to propose what the solutions would be to the problems that are identified."

The DOE has been seeking comment and information from the public concerning its plans for an electricity transmission congestion study and possible designation of NIETCs. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) provides for NIETC designation for areas that are experiencing electric energy transmission capacity constraints or congestion that adversely affects consumers.

Through a notice of inquiry (NOI), the DOE invited comment on draft criteria for gauging the suitability of geographic areas as NIETCs. The deadline for filing comments was March 6. On March 29, the DOE is hosting a technical conference in Chicago that will address criteria for the evaluation of candidate areas as NIETCs. For more information on the meeting, go to: http://www.electricity.doe.gov/1221

PJM Interconnection in March asked the DOE to designate two transmission paths, the Allegheny Mountain path and the Delaware River path, as NIETCs.

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