The Challenge of Interstate Transmission Line Siting

The siting of interstate transmission lines has long-been a problem that has vexed both states and the federal government.  With the expected growth in electricity demand, coupled with the need to bring renewable energy to market and the necessity to enhance and secure the nation’s energy infrastructure, the need for added transmission capacity has never been more apparent.  However federal needs and state interests frequently do not align, leading to an underdeveloped and over-stressed electricity transmission system.

One possible solution to the challenge of siting transmission lines across state borders would be to more aggressively allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to site transmission lines.  In fact the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) granted FERC backstop siting authority in areas deemed to be of national interest.  Expansion of that authority could certainly lead to lines being sited more efficiently.  The problem with this solution however is it does not account for state and local interests in the siting process.  A federal driven solution, while potentially more efficient, does not ensure that the stakeholders which are directly impacted by a proposed line are at the table making decisions about where the line should be sited. 

Another solution may be the formation of an interstate compact governing transmission line siting.   The 2005 EPACT granted states advance congressional consent to create regional interstate compacts. Since enactment, there have been several attempts (notably in the central Midwest and the Pacific Northwest) to create multistate consensus around the issue and drive toward an interstate compact, but to date no such agreements have been adopted. Such agreements, if created, would limit federal siting authority with a few exceptions (e.g. if the parties to a compact are in disagreement) and therefore are potentially attractive solutions for states seeking to facilitate transmission yet forestall federal involvement.

With the consent of the 2005 EPACT serving as a starting point, The Council of State Governments, through its National Center for Interstate Compacts, has developed an interstate transmission line siting compact.  This project was undertaken at the request of CSG’s legislative leadership and is the culmination of more than two years of work, beginning with an exploratory advisory phase and concluding with a year-long drafting process.

Compact Highlights:

The compact is intended to serve as a policy option for state policymakers and is designed to improve interstate transmission line siting.  Based on the initial recommendations of the Advisory Committee, the compacts drafters have developed a framework for a national transmission line siting compact designed to improve efficiencies during the siting process. The drafters have identified the following issues to be included in the compact:

1.The draft provides a framework for a national transmission line siting compact designed to improve efficiencies during the siting process by standardizing timelines across member states.

2.Such an agreement, and its requirements, would be triggered on a regional basis and pertain only to those states that are both members of the compact and affected by the proposed line.

3.The compact specifically addresses the following four areas by:

  • application filing process;
  • application review process
  • proposed line review and timeline;
  • the approval process.

The drafters believe a compact that addresses each of the four areas listed above will reduce redundancies and create economies of scale within the siting process that will benefit both consumers and producers.  In addition to the four core content areas identified above, the language also addresses issues such as governance, finance, dispute resolution and rule making procedures.  The compact language also provides a means for federal and tribal participation when it is appropriate.

For more information about CSG’s efforts to develop a transmission line siting compact please click here or contact Crady deGolian at cdegolian@csg.org.