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Another Food Fight!

The new transmission siting and permitting policies could be just as messy and unruly as the old ones.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2007


One attorney, speaking anonymously, believes that DOE is being dragged down by the politics that are playing out behind the scenes. They say that DOE by now should have issued a finding with respect to the NIETCs.

In fact, in comments filed late last year, PJM Interconnection had asked the secretary of energy to designate three NIETCs within the PJM Region: the Allegheny Mountain Corridor, the Delaware River Corridor, and the Mid-Atlantic Corridor. In fact, PJM wrote: “In the absence of construction of new, high-voltage transmission circuit in the portion of the PJM system that is within the proposed Allegheny Mountain Corridor, NERC and PJM reliability and planning criteria will be violated in 2011.”

To ensure an adequate planning and development timeline, PJM asks that the Allegheny Mountain Corridor be designated by Dec. 31, 2006, and the others be designated in a timely fashion. PJM may have to wait, according to a DOE spokesman; the DOE will be offering a new comment period once a “draft” of proposed NIETCs is developed. The spokesman did not outline a timeline for the commencement of the new comment period.

Kevin M. Kolevar, director for the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, which oversees the NIETC process, says the delay has been a result of the higher than expected volume of filings.

“We are working as expeditiously as possible, but keeping in mind an involved stakeholder process. It evokes a lot of passions. We finished the congestion study. … We undertook the comment period. We received a lot of feedback from the public that there was a need for greater public and stakeholder involvement,” Kolevar said.

The DOE: An Unfortunate Czar

No one can argue that the DOE does not have formidable technical expertise for the job of selecting NIETCs.

Its recent EPACT-mandated National Electric Transmission Congestion Study, a necessary precursor to selecting NIETCs, generally was well regarded by the industry. The concern is that the DOE is more of a political animal than FERC, and appears ill-equipped to manage coordination in the same orderly way in which FERC manages interaction with stakeholders.

The energy secretary serves at the pleasure of the president, whereas FERC commissioners are appointed by the president to staggered terms. Many experts, on the condition of anonymity, have confided that the transmission siting process is being perverted politically by this bifurcated process. It is not known whether Congress intended the siting process to have a “political” backstop, but certainly many have criticized the previous transmission siting process as being unnecessarily political.

It also is not clear who would fare better under this process—utilities, landowners, or other stakeholders.

Kolevar says the DOE will do all it can to defend the integrity of the process, designating only corridors that are actually needed to facilitate infrastructure growth.

“The only thing that we can do,” he said, “is have a very open and public process so people can see where we are and have an opportunity to weigh in on these matters.

“Our responsibilities is making sure that everyone who has an interest