FERC last Thursday proposed regulations to coordinate all federal authorizations and related environmental reviews of proposed transmission facilities in designated national interest electric transmission corridors. The regulations would apply to entities filing applications for transmission line facilities.
Commissioners underscored the point that it's not the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) intent to undercut states' authority when it comes to the siting of transmission lines.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) provides for federal backstop siting authority of certain electric transmission facilities in order to increase transmission capacity and maintain system reliability.
Upon the Secretary of Energy's designation of national interest electric transmission corridors experiencing electric transmission capacity constraints or congestion that adversely affects consumers, FERC may issue permits to construct or modify electric transmission facilities if the Commission finds:
"Today, we act to strengthen our energy infrastructure by issuing proposed rules to implement the transmission siting provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005," said FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher. "These rules will govern the issuance of construction permits by the Commission for projects that meet the statutory criteria."
But he also said that "it is important to note that our regulations are intended to supplement the traditional state siting process. I would expect that most transmission projects would continue to be sited by states under state law. Our jurisdiction to issue a construction permit applies only under limited circumstances, and our proposed rules respect those limits."
The message that FERC Commissioner Suedeen Kelly wants to send to the states "is that there is no reason by our proposal...that they should feel concerned about our desire to take away their jurisdiction" when it comes to transmission siting.
"In fact, backstop siting authority only comes to us in those circumstances where there the state doesn't act," she noted. "I would anticipate that the states will act and that it will be the rare case that comes to us. But, if those cases do come to us, I think that the pre-filing process...should comfort people that all of the issues that are typically of concern to people with transmission siting -- land use, environmental impacts, and various other concerns that people have in the siting of infrastructure -- will be taken into account, and that there will be a full participatory process."
Kelliher said that the Department of Energy (DOE) "deserves praise for how it has proceeded with respect to its transmission congestion study, and I am confident the department will designate transmission corridors in a timely manner, consistent with the statute. Our two agencies are working together closely and productively. In particular, I commend the department for its recent order that delegated to the Commission lead agency status once a permit application is filed."
The secretary of the Department of Energy recently determined that FERC's expertise in siting energy facilities would prove beneficial to this process and, as a result, delegated to the Commission certain aspects of the coordination of federal authorizations and related environmental review.
Kelliher said that to his knowledge, the DOE is on track to issue the congestion study by Aug. 9. EPAct 2005 requires the DOE to issue a national transmission congestion study by August and every three years thereafter. EPAct 2005 also provides for the designation of national interest electric transmission corridors for areas that are experiencing electric energy transmission capacity constraints or congestion that adversely affects consumers.
It's Kelliher's intent to have FERC's final transmission siting rules in place by the time that the DOE "may start designating transmission corridors."
A proposal to build or expand electric transmission facilities brought before the Commission must be used for interstate commerce, be consistent with the public interest, significantly reduce transmission congestion in interstate commerce, be consistent with national energy policy and maximize as much as possible existing towers and structures.
"I don't want to overstate the need for the applicants to be aggressively searching out for the issues and not expect the public simply to accept blindly what it is they have to say," Commissioner Nora Brownell said at the open meeting.
"We see everyday the implications and the impact on customers of the weak infrastructure we have in transmission," she went on to say. "I think this is critically important, as is the work of DOE. And I think we also need to explain to customers the choices we've made in the country and the costs that they are paying for not having sufficient infrastructure."
Brownell doesn't think "customers understand they're paying a pretty severe price for our lack of commitment to developing long-term, big infrastructure."
In the proposed rule, the Commission seeks to facilitate maximum participation from all interested stakeholders through a public participation plan and an extensive pre-application and post-application process. The proposed participation plan would provide all interested parties, including affected landowners, with information on all aspects of the proposed project, including national and local benefits and environmental impacts.
FERC said the participation plan ensures ample opportunity for public involvement during the pre-filing and application processes. The participation plan would be accessible in a central location in each county through which the proposed project would be located.
The proposed pre-filing process includes a consultation with the director of the Office of Energy Projects (OEP), the start of environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, numerous public participation opportunities, and a determination by the director of OEP that an application is ready to be filed for Commission consideration.
Once an application is filed, the proposed rule calls for notifying the public of the application, issuing and soliciting comments on the draft environmental document, preparing and issuing a final environmental document, reviewing the record and issuing a final decision by the Commission.
Comments on the proposed rule are due 60 days from publication in the Federal Register. For more information, go to http://www.ferc.gov/industries/electric/indus-act/siting.asp.
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