Compact Would Give States Power Over Power
Transmission Line Siting Compact Could Assist with Streamlining Nation’s Energy Infrastructure
by Nathan Dickerson
States in the central part of the country know that wind equals power—literally.
And even though states like North Dakota and Kansas—two of the top three windiest states—want to share that power, they run into mountain ranges courtesy of nature and policy hurdles courtesy of state boundary lines.
“Demand for energy will continue to grow, especially for electricity generated from renewable sources, and we need to reduce impediments to moving those electrons across state lines,” said Kansas Rep. Tom Sloan.
States can’t do much about the mountains, but Sloan and others see a way around the policy hurdles that create energy bottlenecks. They’re working through The Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts to develop a Transmission Line Siting Compact to work through the policy hurdles created when exporting energy across state lines. Sloan and North Dakota Rep. Kim Koppelman co-chair the national advisory panel working on the project.
The Need For Transmission
The problem is this, according to Koppelman: “The lines don’t go efficiently from where the energy is produced to where it is needed.”
While energy companies are willing to build those lines, the time investment is a major hurdle.
Take American Electric Power, for example. The company spent 14 years securing necessary permits for a transmission line that crosses state borders and federal lands. It took less than 18 months to construct the line, Sloan said.
“Simplifying the regulatory process would have reduced the time spent in the application process and reduced project costs—thereby lowering the ultimate cost of electricity to customers,” Sloan said.
Congress recognizes the need for rapid deployment of energy and infrastructure, especially in light of the emphasis on renewable energy across the country. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission backstop authority to site transmission lines in certain National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors, which are designated by the Department of Energy.
That means the Department of Energy can decide whether a specific geographical region is experiencing heavy electric congestion and is in need of relief. If the department designates that region as a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the authority to site transmission lines if a state or states in that region unnecessarily delayed or denied requests in the process.
States contested this federal authority, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February ruled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could not deem projects eligible for fast-track approval without first consulting with impacted states. Although the ruling does not expressly say states would have sole responsibility for interstate electricity transmission line siting, it does imply that states must be involved in the process.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 did grant advanced Congressional consent for states to form compacts to handle siting.
That’s what state officials are now doing.
“It became apparent that (stakeholders) want to build high voltage transmission lines, but generally are slowed or thwarted by differences in the way that states consider siting applications,” Sloan said.
Compact: A State-Driven Solution
The idea of the interstate transmission line siting compact took root following a meeting with federal and state regulators discussing the issue. Both Sloan and Koppelman were in attendance.
“Federal regulators were frustrated with the lack of progress and were discussing intervening, overriding the states,” Koppelman said. “That’s when I asked whether anyone had ever heard of an interstate compact. They hadn’t really thought about that. It was as if a collective light bulb came on.”
The pair approached CSG for assistance on pursuing the compact. CSG assembled a National Advisory Panel of state leaders from each of its four regions, consisting of representatives from federal and state governments and nonprofit organizations with a keen interest and authority over electricity transmission line siting.
The advisory panel has met twice, working toward a goal of exploring the suitability of an interstate compact that would enable a more efficient and effective interstate transmission line siting process and, if appropriate, to make recommendations to guide the compact drafting process.
The panel agreed the compact would improve the siting process and developed recommendations to guide the drafting of a compact. While the compact would be national in scope, it would be utilized regionally as a practical matter. It would work to improve efficiencies during the siting process, including implementing common application, pre-determined timelines and public hearings.
The advisory panel agreed the agreement would be triggered whenever a transmission line is proposed. Only those states that are both members of the compact and impacted by the proposed line would be affected by the individual proposals.
The compact would have other benefits.
“The compact could create a forum to bring states together, which I trust could help state governments improve communications with one another and build stronger and more effective relationships,” said Bill Smith, executive director of the organization of MISO states, a regional transmission organization as defined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
It also would create a faster process for deploying critical infrastructure to support our energy future.
“The endorsement of a transmission line siting compact represents a key step toward developing a coordinated, more robust national high voltage transmission line system … which would, in turn, allow states that are energy producers but are less densely populated, like my home state of North Dakota, to deliver energy efficiently and rapidly to our more densely populated neighbors,” Koppelman said.