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Transmission Line-Siting Under EPACT: Shortcut or Short Circuit?

The 2005 Act, designed to streamline projects, may fall short of that goal.

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2007

in the commonwealth with a design capacity of more than 100 kV. 3 FERC lacked the authority to permit or site an electric- transmission project. The process focused on coordinating with local entities and receiving approvals from the relevant state PUCs. EPACT, however, significantly changed this process for certain projects under certain conditions.

Local governments and other interest groups with a keen interest in transmission-line siting have increased their activity in recent years. For example, concern about a proposed transmission line in New York resulted in a statutory change limiting an electric corporation’s ability to use eminent domain to obtain a right-of-way. 4 Conversely, the press has reported that the DOE wants FERC to have more power to ensure that the states do not delay needed projects in the national corridors. 5 Moreover, certain industry participants believe that if the states relinquish their transmission-siting authority to FERC, more electric transmission facilities will be constructed. 6

The DOE National Corridors

The fundamental prerequisite for FERC jurisdiction over a transmission project is that the proposed transmission facility must be located within the geographic bounds of a national corridor designated by DOE. EPACT requires DOE to identify transmission constraints and study transmission congestion, and it authorizes DOE to designate certain constrained areas as national corridors. Not surprisingly, this has become the first battleground over EPACT implementation.

DOE recently issued draft national-corridor designations for areas in the Mid-Atlantic and the Southwest. The proposed Mid-Atlantic Area National Corridor includes counties in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and all of New Jersey, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. The proposed Southwest Area National Corridor includes seven counties in Southern California, three counties in western Arizona, and one county in southern Nevada. However, in its press release announcing the issuance of the draft national corridors, DOE downplayed the transmission-siting impact of the designations. DOE explained that it was issuing draft national corridors to “encourage a full consideration of all options available to meet local, regional, and national demand, which includes more local generation, transmission capacity, demand response, and energy-efficiency measures.” 7 DOE added that it was not directing the construction of new transmission lines, proposing a route, or asserting that additional transmission capacity is the only solution to resolve congestion. 8

This sentiment also was expressed by DOE staff at the recent public meetings on the national corridors. Most of the participants at the recent public meetings, however, did not seem to agree with this characterization. 9 They viewed the national-corridor designation process as the first step toward federalizing the transmission line-siting process and as an improper usurpation of local authority, particularly with regard to eminent domain issues. Local government representatives also voiced concerns over DOE’s designation of these corridors without consulting state or local entities. 10

The size of DOE’s draft Mid-Atlantic National Corridor has exacerbated the controversy over the national-corridor designation. The governor of Pennsylvania, for example, issued a statement urging DOE to reconsider its proposal to include 50 of the state’s 67 counties in the Mid-Atlantic National Corridor. 11 The size of the