Legal & Regulatory

FERC-NARUC Task Force Will Tackle Transmission Issues

Two groups concerned with issues regarding the regulation and production of U.S. electricity have announced formation of a joint federal-state task force on power transmission, an effort to better identify the costs and benefits associated with electric power projects, and support the buildout of renewable energy resources.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of energy, and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) on June 17 said the Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission “will explore transmission-related issues to identify and realize the benefits that transmission can provide, while ensuring that the costs are allocated efficiently and fairly””

The initiative, established by a FERC order on Thursday, said the groups would work together on “efficient development of new transmission infrastructure,” which is seen as “essential as the nation continues to transition to clean energy resources.”

“It is increasingly clear that interstate transmission will play a critical role in the transition to the clean energy future,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick in a Twitter post announcing the task force.

The groups said construction of new infrastructure supporting electricity transmission will require federal and state agencies and regulators to work together “to address numerous issues, including how to plan and pay for new transmission infrastructure and how to navigate shared federal-state regulatory authority and processes. As a result, the time is ripe for greater federal-state coordination and cooperation.”

“I am so pleased that FERC is joining with NARUC today to establish this joint task force to consider a variety of transmission-related subjects that will affect how successful efforts will be to build out the transmission grid,” said Glick in a statement shared with POWER.  “A big thank you to our friends at NARUC, including Idaho Public Utilities Commission President and this year’s NARUC President, Paul Kjellander, for their hard work in putting this task force proposal together. I’m looking forward to our joint meetings.”

Power Transmission Policy

Glick last week hinted at the formation of the task force when he discussed both long- and short-term goals of his agency regarding power transmission policy. Glick, speaking June 10 at the Clean Power 2021 virtual summit, said regulators would present a clearer picture of how to tackle issues surrounding transmission and infrastructure “in the near future.”

Glick last week acknowledged that new plans for electricity transmission, along with cost allocation for power resources, are major issues for the power grid to enable 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, a goal set by President Joe Biden. Glick said FERC must take a new approach to interregional transmission planning, and must also expand how benefits are considered as costs are allocated for projects.

Richard Glick

“Our partnership with FERC on this task force presents a much-needed opportunity for state and federal regulators to work collaboratively on transmission issues that affect all stakeholders,” said Kjellander, whose group is a non-profit organization whose members include the governmental agencies that regulate utilities and carriers in each state, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. NARUC’s member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities, and NARUC represents the interests of state public utility commissions before the three branches of the federal government.

FERC also has issued a policy statement, clarifying that states and transmission providers may enter into voluntary agreements to plan and pay for transmission facilities. FERC has said those voluntary agreements are acceptable for projects that are not being developed under the regional transmission planning processes required by FERC order No. 1000. The policy statement is intended to address concerns that FERC policies, and the Federal Power Act, could interfere with the creation of those voluntary agreements.

Support for Renewables

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), in a statement Thursday said, “We commend FERC for taking these initial steps on transmission policy reform, which is sorely needed to deliver the renewable power Americans want and deserve. By bringing FERC and state regulatory commissioners together on issues of shared jurisdiction, the Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission can help identify obstacles and develop solutions for transmission development, and we look forward to seeing its recommendations. Meanwhile, the policy statement on state voluntary agreements to plan and pay for transmission facilities constructively clarifies that states wishing to cut the Gordian knot of transmission planning and cost allocation are able to do so.”

Wetstone continued: “These two actions are down payments on the substantial transmission policy reforms we hope to see later this year. States are important partners in this work, and reforming transmission planning and cost allocation would be the most impactful thing the Commission could do to accelerate the deployment of renewable power necessary to tackle our climate challenge. Ten years after being finalized, not one interregional transmission line has been built using the process established under Order 1000. With more interregional transmission, we can connect centers of high renewable resources with centers of high electric demand, enhancing grid reliability and dramatically reducing carbon emissions.”

Gabe Tabak, counsel, federal and regulatory affairs for the American Clean Power Association, in an email to POWER said, “More transmission is essential to a clean energy future, and the federal government and states must closely coordinate to ensure that the future grid keeps pace with affordable, reliable, renewable energy and storage. ACP appreciates FERC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners taking key steps toward coordinating state and federal roles on transmission planning and cost allocation, and looks forward to building upon today’s actions.”

Collaboration ‘Imperative’

Kjellander, whose group in recent months has been involved with water and broadband access issues, said of the task force: “Our shared authority over how to plan and pay for transmission infrastructure and the rapid pace of the energy transition have made such collaboration an imperative for all of us.” FERC’s order asks NARUC to nominate up to 10 state regulators to join FERC commissioners on the task force, which will hold public meetings and use a dedicated FERC docket to allow comment from the public and stakeholders on the group’s actions.

The group on Thursday said it specifically will seek to:

  • Identify barriers that inhibit planning and development of optimal transmission necessary to achieve federal and state policy goals, as well as potential solutions to those barriers;
  • Explore potential bases for one or more states to use FERC-jurisdictional transmission planning processes to advance their policy goals, including multi-state goals.
  • Explore opportunities for states to voluntarily coordinate to identify, plan and develop regional transmission solutions.
  • Review FERC rules and regulations regarding planning and cost allocation of transmission projects and potentially identify recommendations for reforms.
  • Examine barriers to the efficient and expeditious interconnection of new resources through the FERC-jurisdictional interconnection processes, as well as potential solutions to those barriers.
  • Discuss mechanisms to ensure that transmission investment is cost effective, including approaches to enhance transparency and improve oversight of transmission investment including, potentially, through enhanced federal-state coordination.

Glick has previously noted the slow process to build new electricity transmission infrastructure. At last week’s summit he said his agency would look to at least make current infrastructure more efficient.

“I’m hoping from FERC’s perspective that we’re … going to be able to outline a path forward on many of these transmission-related issues in the near future,” he said, “certainly by the end of the summer.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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