Agencies to expedite new transmission lines

memorandum of understanding between nine federal agencies designed to make it faster and simpler to build transmission lines on federal lands was announced today. The goal of the agreement is to speed the approval of new transmission lines, reduce expense and uncertainty in the process, increase accessibility to renewable energy and jumpstart job creation. Expedited siting and construction of transmission projects on federal lands will be accomplished through a more coordinated approach to the various environmental reviews and administrative process required to permit a new line. Participating agencies will coordinate their review through a lead agency, designated by either the Department of Energy (DOE) or the participating agencies. Projects qualifying for coordinated review are high voltage transmission line projects that cross jurisdictions administered by one or more participating federal agency.

Authority granted to DOE to create the agreement comes under section 216(h) of the Federal Power Act, as amended by section 1221(a) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (16 U.S.C. §824p). Under EPAct ’05 DOE is authorized to (1) serve as the point of contact for applicants, state agencies, Indian tribes, and others regarding proposed projects; (2) coordinate preparation of unified environmental documentation that will serve as the basis for all federal decisions necessary to authorize the use of federal lands for Qualifying Projects as defined in Section III; (3) coordinate all federal agency reviews necessary for project development and siting required by relevant federal environmental law; and (4) maintain a consolidated administrative record of all federal actions taken with respect to a Qualifying Project. Agencies with statutory jurisdiction over a qualifying project will conduct their review by following guidelines established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) found in Part 50 of Chapter 18 of the Code of Federal Regulations. FERC will retain jurisdiction over transmission projects in National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors as previously designated by the Secretary of Energy.

A more cohesive and streamlined review of transmission projects should result in two important developments. The first is an increase in the building of transmission lines to increase overall transmission capability relieving some of the stress currently on the lines. The second is to make it possible to access remote areas containing vast renewable resources and transmit power developed in those areas to population centers for sale. A lack of transmission capability has been the Achilles heel of renewable energy development, especially wind power. The long and expensive administrative processes have hamstrung transmission development in the past. This MOA is a signal that increased transmission capability to support new renewable energy developments is on the way.

Source:  Joseph Pallett

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