Challenging Transmission Corridors

March 26, 2008

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider
Editor-in-Chief

Two lawsuits intend to de-energize parts of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Environmental and conservation groups are saying that broad transmission corridors that have been authorized by the law are illegal, claiming they allow utilities to bypass state jurisdiction, environmental standards and private property rights.

By expanding the national infrastructure, policymakers also hope to modernize it and bring it in line with a 21st Century economy. Those in the trenches repeatedly express that the capacity of the transmission system is inadequate and will be unable over a sustained period to support huge increases in power demand while also maintaining that the grid is outdated. The issue has been compounded by the difficulties in both winning permits and the necessary capital, thereby increasing the risks of large-scale reliability problems.

According to the National Transmission Grid Study released a few years ago, the demands on the network will grow by 20 percent in the coming decade but the capacity to carry electrons will only increase by 6 percent. At the same time, it is expensive to build transmission lines, estimated to be at least $1 million a mile. To motivate expansion, the energy law provides the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with the authority to intervene if the states do not approve vital projects within one year.

The lawsuits take specific aim at proposals to build multi-state transmissions projects in the southwest and mid-Atlantic regions, both designated by the U.S. Energy Department in October 2007 as "National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors." As a result, FERC is eligible to use its backstop permitting powers.

Critics of those policies say that they overreach and allocate more land than is necessary to improve reliability. They want the courts to invalidate the Energy Department's designations. They also want to force the department to consider alternative routes that are not as environmentally sensitive.

In the early part of 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity filed one of the suits in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California challenging the newfound authority of FERC. It says that the "fast track" permitting process would allow utilities to run roughshod over 77,000 square miles in Arizona and Southern California and put at risk national parks and monuments as well as threaten endangered species.

Meantime, 11 regional and national environmental organizations filed a lawsuit in the Middle U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the Piedmont Environmental Council are among those making similar allegations about the mid-Atlantic route covering 116,000 square miles.

"The Department of Energy has failed to do even the basic due diligence and analyze responsible and cost effective alternative ways of meeting the region's energy needs," says Christopher Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

Balanced Approach

Allegheny Energy is one of the utilities trying to build a 240-mile, 500-kilovolt line through three Mid-Atlantic States that are Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. It says that that the line is needed to accommodate an annual growth in electricity consumption along the East Coast of 1.6 percent over the next decade.

The utility says that the transmission line respects that "balance" and emphasizes that it is committed to working with all of the states. In making its case, it is urging the states to view themselves as part of the national and regional economic pictures and not as isolated entities. As such, transmission development along the designated corridor keeps commerce humming everywhere. To use a "band aide" approach to fix inadequate transmission capacity would not only serve to prolong the economic risks but would also necessitate more upgrades down the road.

"Given the fact that our expected in-service date is June 2011, we need to get our application successfully through the states," says Holly Ackerman, director of Allegheny's transmission projects. "To fall back on the FERC would delay that start time. FERC doesn't just automatically step in. You have to go through a process and it would be as rigorous as the one in the states."

Federal officials have also said the southwest needs more transmission to ease congestion there. San Diego Gas & Electric has responded by proposing a $1.4 billion line that would stretch 150 miles. The California's Public Utility Commission, which has been reviewing the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line for more than one year, says that it will make its final decision by the end of summer.

Meanwhile, the threat of a federal appeal hovers over the process. By law, FERC is obliged to ensure that any proposed transmission line within a designated corridor must be used for interstate commerce and significantly reduce transmission congestion. Whether the feds or the states are involved, the review process must be inclusive, thorough and transparent.

At this point, the questions over FERC's backstop authority do exceed the answers. The lawsuits involving the southwest and mid-Atlantic transmission corridors seek to get some resolutions -- answers that would benefit all participants. Those stakeholders, for instance, still don't know how long it would take FERC to review their cases or exactly what stipulations they can put on new construction. More clarity is necessary.

None of that, however, obviates the need for additional transmission -- essential in the effort toward improving reliability and delivering economic prosperity to all regions. Legal battles to decide where and if those systems are built are inevitable. If regulators can assure a proper balance between the environment and the economy, however, then the law compels them to grant approval to expand and upgrade the nation's infrastructure.

More information is available from Energy Central:


EnergyBiz Insider

Want to stay atop the energy sector?

Ken Silverstein
EnergyBiz Insider
Editor-in-Chief

Read EnergyBiz Insider, a thrice-weekly e-publication that takes an incisive look at the issues that affect your job and your company.

Each issue examines one relevant topic and gives you keen and in-depth insight.

Topics covered in Insider range from financial to technological to regulatory, with an eye toward providing fair and balanced coverage.

Sign Up For EnergyBiz Insider












EnergyBiz Magazine is Online

 

A State of the Utilities Industry Study - What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Thursday Sep 4, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Faced with everything from unpredictable weather to changing renewable energy portfolios to volatile fuel prices, utilities can only be certain about one thing: uncertainty. Energy Central's Sierra Energy Group surveyed 70 utilities professionals in IT, finance, trading and risk management more...

Valuing the Costs and Benefits of Solar

Tuesday Sep 9, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) continues to grow in the United States. While solar PV is predominately installed in California, the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Colorado, Arizona and Hawaii, how to value its contribution and costs is being discussed in legislative and regulatory more...

Revenue Assurance; a boring topic unless it's your revenue

Wednesday Sep 17, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Did you get a paycheck recently? Did you look over your paycheck to make sure you got paid for the work you provided? Would you be concerned if your paycheck was 10, 15, or 20% less than you expected? That's more...

Data-to-Value Realized: AMI/OMS Integration

Thursday Sep 18, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The explosion of data in utilities has at times seemed to have created more problems that it has solved. One refrain from utility executives is often around the quest for more value creation from their investments in smart grid, smart more...

Utility Analytics, Challenges & Solutions Webcast Series - Session One

Monday Sep 22, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The utility analytics marketplace is evolving so fast that it is hard to keep up with new technologies and processes that are transforming how utilities accomplish their mission. This webcast series provides attendees with an opportunity to see and hear more...

2014 Mobile Utility Week

Monday Sep 15, 2014 - Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - Phoenix, AZ

This is a must-attend event for utilities professionals who are responsible for creating and implementing their organization's mobile strategy. Walk away with the knowledge and resources required to implement effective mobile solutions within the areas of customer engagement mobility and more...

CounterIntel Conference and Training - Park City, Utah

Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - Thursday Sep 18, 2014 - Park City, UT - USA

Critical Intelligence will host our first CounterIntel Conference and Training in Park City, Utah, September 16-18, 2014. Join industry peers, industrial control system owners/operators and intelligence experts to discuss situational awareness and intelligence. Learn how leading organizations are incorporating intelligence more...

26th Annual Independent Energy Human Resources Association (IEHRA) Conference

Wednesday Sep 24, 2014 - Friday Sep 26, 2014 - San Diego, California - United States

 more...

8th Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

Wednesday Sep 24, 2014 - Friday Sep 26, 2014 - Aspen, Colorado - USA

Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange (formerly Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange) facilitates a networking and professional development conference for staff representatives of energy and water utilities serving Colorado and neighboring states who are responsible for developing and implementing customer programs related more...



Sponsored Content