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By Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter

A lobby for greater investment in electric transmission unveiled a statement of principles yesterday to guide regulators in development of a next-generation grid in the United States and Canada.

“The coming electrification of transportation and heating in the U.S. will require major new electric transmission infrastructure,” said Brian Gemmell, president of the lobby group WIRES and a vice president of transmission asset planning at National Grid.

“We are calling for more leadership, cooperation and investment at the federal, state and regional levels to address the barriers that have inhibited the planning and execution of critical transmission projects that will be absolutely necessary to support the new electrified economy.”

The statement was signed by 10 other organizations, including the Edison Electric Institute, GridWise Alliance, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Canadian Electricity Association, the Great Plains Institute and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The statement is an outgrowth of the International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid held last month at the Embassy of Canada in Washington.

Chief among the principles were that policymakers in the United States and Canada need to “streamline processes governing economic and environmental reviews of projects where possible.”

Current processes governing the approval of new U.S. transmission lines vary by states and regions as regional transmission organizations manage the power grid. States can exercise effective veto power over the type of long-haul, high-voltage lines proposed by industry to deliver renewable power from remote areas of the country to population centers.

Layers of process often “result in actual additional dollars and cents costs that flow to consumers,” WIRES Executive Director Larry Gasteiger said.

“The longer [processes] take, the more involved they are, the more expensive they are for the participants, and somebody ultimately winds up paying for that” or lines simply do not get built, he said.

And the longer a proposal for a line takes, the higher the risk of litigation, he said.

The WIRES statement also urges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and state regulators to revise regulatory processes “governing the planning and cost allocation of high voltage electric transmission, balancing the public’s interest in expedition, cost savings, care of the environment and an equitable sharing of burdens.”

Except in limited circumstances, FERC doesn’t approve the construction of interstate transmission lines. The agency does review and approve interstate wholesale electric transmission sales and tariffs that may encourage companies to build transmission lines.

In 2009, a federal court effectively gutted FERC’s “backstop” authority to approve interstate transmission lines denied by state regulators.

One response was Order No. 1000, a landmark 2011 decision by FERC designed to increase regional transmission development by discouraging monopolies and creating competition and incentives for innovative projects.

But the order hasn’t produced the wave of projects envisioned by FERC, and Chairman Neil Chatterjee has raised the question of whether the commission should revisit it.

“It’s a fair question to ask whether Order 1000 is fully accomplishing all of its objectives,” said Gasteiger, who worked at FERC when the order was developed.

Commissioners are aware of industry’s concerns, but “it’s not clear to me what the appetite is for FERC to tackle Order 1000 and everything that would be involved with that,” given a host of other large issues facing the commission, he said.

Gasteiger is looking forward to what comes out of two inquiries launched by FERC in March related to transmission; one concerned returns on equity and the other on improvements to its electric transmission incentives policy.

“They’re building a record, which is really helpful; the question is what do they wind up doing with that record,” he said.

The statement of principles also calls on U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories that have renewable energy requirements for utilities and other generators to balance those policies with support for the additional lines or advanced grid technologies needed to support renewables.

In January, WIRES plans to release an “in-depth examination of transmission needs at the regional level,” including support of renewables integration and grid resilience, Gasteiger said.

Published: Energy Wire, Thursday, November 21, 2019