States Take the Baton in Race to Improve Electric Transmission

Posted by Verna Mandez on Jun 6, 2023 12:00:00 PM

Blog States take the lead in supporting transmission build-out

This past weekend, President Biden signed a bill to raise the national debt ceiling that also included modest improvements in the permitting process for building clean energy projects. As part of the negotiation process, Congressional leaders considered policy changes to speed up the buildout of large-scale electric grid transmission, such as expanding transmission capacity between regions. Ultimately, and unfortunately, those reforms were not included in the bill.

With the debt crisis averted, it’s unclear whether and to what extent Congressional leaders can still craft comprehensive energy permitting legislation that can pass both chambers. While comprehensive Congressional action remains urgent, the country can’t wait for silver bullet fixes from the federal government. Thankfully, states can take action without Congressional help, and already this year, many have. 

Long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines are the superhighways of our electric grid, and we can’t move electricity from major generation centers to the homes, schools, and businesses in our communities without it. But like any highway system, it will become less useful and reliable if we neglect it. Even though transmission infrastructure is a critical part of our everyday lives, the construction of transmission has declined significantly over recent decades, failing to keep up with our nation’s growing energy needs. Combined with increasingly extreme weather events that, at times, impact large geographic regions of the U.S., parts of the country are experiencing blackouts more often, threatening lives and livelihoods.

Our aging infrastructure and slow transmission build-out are not only threatening the reliability of our energy grid but impacting states’ abilities to reach their clean energy goals. On a national level, analysis from Princeton University indicates that upwards of 80% of the emissions reductions driven by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) by 2030 will be lost if the growth of new transmission is constrained. Connecting new clean energy generation to the grid requires more and smarter transmission lines. And achieving a 100% clean energy future will require policy reforms at every level of government. While Congress debates what role the federal government should take in supporting this development, several states have used their legislative sessions in 2023 to make important progress in addressing the desperate need for more transmission infrastructure: 

  • California - The California legislature is considering numerous pieces of legislation that would tackle aspects of streamlining transmission permitting, in addition to Governor Newsom's recent permitting reform proposal. This legislation, combined with the recently passed California Independent System Operator (CAISO) transmission plan, which will invest billions of dollars in necessary transmission infrastructure in the state, will make progress towards tackling some of the critical infrastructure needs.
    • Senate Bill 420 requires the Governor to identify a primary agency to monitor clean energy and electrical transmission facility planning and deployment. The legislation also makes clean energy transmission projects identified in the CAISO’s transmission planning process or by local publicly owned electric utilities as necessary to maintain system reliability eligible for streamlined review and approval as environmental leadership development projects.

    • Senate Bill 319 requires the PUC, the state Energy Commission, and CAISO to jointly develop an expedited permitting roadmap that proposes an efficient, coordinated permitting process for transmission infrastructure. Additionally, the PUC must direct utilities to incorporate current and anticipated energization and capacity service upgrades into its long-term transmission infrastructure needs assessments.

    • Senate Bill 619 expands facilities eligible to be certified by the state Energy Commission to include transmission lines regardless of whether the electricity is carried to a point of junction with an interconnected electrical transmission system. 

  • Arizona House Bill 2496 exempts certain generation tie-in transmission lines that are a mile or less from the current line from the siting approval process. Sponsored by Assemblymember Gail Griffin, the bill was supported by the Arizona Corporation Commission as it is currently exploring additional mechanisms to alleviate the line siting backlogs. HB 2496 was signed by Governor Hobbs in April. 

  • Colorado Senate Bill 23-016 tackles lots of energy issues including allowing the Colorado Electric Transmission Authority to finance, renovate, rebuild, or recondition existing utility transmission. SB16 also requires local governments to expedite review of applications that propose to renovate, rebuild, or recondition transmission. This bill was sponsored by Senator Chris Hansen and was signed into law by Governor Polis in early May.

  • Maryland Senate Bill 781/House Bill 793, also known as the POWER Act (Promoting Offshore Wind Energy Resources), is designed to help Maryland meet its ambitious goals for climate pollution reduction and renewable energy generation, as set forth by the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 (60% pollution reduction by 2031) and the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 (50% renewable generation by 2030, including at least 1,200 MW of offshore wind). The POWER Act facilitates the construction of the shared transmission infrastructure necessary to support current offshore wind projects underway and any future offshore wind power off the coast. The bill also directs the state to manage a competitive transmission procurement, by which Maryland could establish a coordinated transmission network that solves the issue of interconnection and builds resilience and reliability on our grid. This bill was sponsored by Del. Lorig Charkoudian and Sen. Katie Fry Hester. The legislation was signed by Gov. Moore on April 21, 2023.

These pieces of legislation will benefit the residents of their respective states and may well serve as models for other states to adopt or improve upon. Upgrading transmission infrastructure is not just a necessity – it is an opportunity for states to lead the charge in creating economic growth and a clean energy future while ensuring the lights come on every time at the flip of a switch. Investing in transmission can stimulate job creation in communities, allow for the efficient distribution of energy resources across the country, reduce the risks of blackouts and service interruptions, and create a clean energy future that enables the transport of renewable energy from remote areas to population centers.  

Meanwhile, Advanced Energy United will continue to press for real Congressional action. Two pieces of federal legislation under consideration stand apart for their positive potential impact on America’s energy system: 

  • S. 946, known as the Streamlining Interstate Transmission of Electricity (SITE) Act (Whitehouse) (118th), would address the need for more robust and reliable transmission infrastructure by establishing a siting authority at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ease the process of constructing long-range, inter-regional high voltage transmission lines. FERC's siting authority would oversee inter-regional transmission projects that have a capacity of at least 1 GW/GV-amperes; traverse two or more states; and advance national energy policy; reduce GHG emissions or improve system reliability. In doing so, this legislation would allow Americans to realize the full benefits of the advanced energy provisions in the IRA and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The SITE Act would maximize the use of existing rights-of-way and minimize eminent domain while increasing grid reliability by upgrading aging transmission infrastructure.

  • The Building Integrated Grids with Inter-Regional Energy Supply (BIG WIRES) Act (Hickenlooper) (118th) (Pending Introduction) would address the need for more reliable transmission infrastructure to reduce power outages and upgrade power sector infrastructure. Existing regulatory structures fall short of providing developers with the incentives to mitigate artificially inflated energy prices. The BIG WIRES Act would address these issues by requiring regions to be able to transfer at least 30% of their peak demand between each other. This proposal would reduce the grid’s vulnerability during extreme weather events by allowing for more interconnection, reduce grid congestion, and significantly lower energy prices for consumers.

In addition to these congressional pieces of legislation, the Biden administration is taking action. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy also released a Transmission Needs Study highlighting the critical need for regional transmission and released an RFI to inform the designation of national transmission corridors. Through the study, the DOE has proposed a designation for National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs), which are geographic areas where electricity limitations and congestion constraints are adversely affecting communities. This designation would allow both the DOE and FERC to fast-track these projects in geographic areas that improve reliability and resilience and reduce consumer costs.  

Meanwhile, FERC has teed up a number of important transmission reforms, from its landmark notice of proposed rulemaking that could result in sweeping changes to transmission planning and cost allocation (Docket No. RM21-17) to proceedings investigating transmission cost containment (AD22-8) and interregional transfer capability (AD23-3). In addition, the Commission is moving forward with the implementation of its clarified and expanded backstop siting authority (RM22-7) and will participate in an upcoming meeting of the ongoing Federal-State Transmission Task Force in July (AD21-15). While these actions are all ongoing, they could collectively—if finalized with critical reforms included—improve the process and requirements for regional and interregional transmission planning and investment. 

Policymakers across the country need to focus on ways to improve the current transmission infrastructure and build more to meet the growing demand. Advanced Energy United is committed to working with decision-makers at the federal, state, and local levels to identify opportunities to address transmission needs because without it, there is no transition to a clean energy future.

Topics: State Policy, Federal Policy, Arizona, Transmission, California, Maryland, Colorado



Advanced Energy Perspectives is Advanced Energy United's blog presenting news, analysis, and commentary on creating an advanced energy economy. Join the conversation!

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