Senator proposes rapid response team for electric transmission

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U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on May 7 introduced a bill to establish an interagency rapid response ream for transmission and a FERC Office of Transmission ombudsperson.

The bill is part of a package of legislative proposals introduced by Murkowski aimed to modernize U.S. energy policies, according to TransmissionHub.

“America’s energy landscape has undergone a dramatic change since Congress last acted on comprehensive energy legislation,” Murkowski said in a May 7 statement. “These targeted bills are an important step toward ensuring economic growth and improving America’s standard of living.”

The Electric Transmission Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Act, S. 1217, would establish an interagency rapid response team to expedite and improve the permitting process for electric transmission infrastructure on federal and non-federal lands, according to the bill text. The mission of the team would be to improve the timeliness and efficiency of transmission infrastructure permitting and to facilitate the performance of maintenance and upgrades to transmission lines on federal and non-federal lands.

Membership of the team would include representatives of FERC, the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Commerce, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, those agencies signed a memorandum of understanding to coordinate their efforts on transmission. In response to the agencies’ agreement, the Obama administration established an Interagency Rapid Response Team, which selected seven transmission projects in 2011 for fast-tracking.

Those projects are:

·      IDACORP unit Idaho Power’s 500-kV Boardman to Hemingway project, which is currently under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review

·      The CapX2020 utilities’ 345-kV Hampton to Rochester to La Crosse transmission line, which is under construction and scheduled to be completed this year

·      Portland General Electric’s 500-kV Cascade Crossing transmission project, which was cancelled in 2013

·      Idaho Power’s 500-kV Gateway West project, which is currently under NEPA review

·      SunZia Transmission’s 500-kV SunZia Southwest transmission project, which received a Bureau of Land Management grant of right of way earlier this year

·      PPL’s 500-kV Susquehanna to Roseland transmission line, which is under construction and scheduled to be energized in May

·      TransWest Express’ 600-kV Transwest Express project, which is currently under NEPA review

According to the text of Murkowski’s Electric Transmission Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Act, the rapid response team would be responsible for facilitating coordination and unified environmental documentation among electric transmission project applicants, federal agencies, states and Indian tribes involved in siting and permitting, as well as establishing clear timelines for review and coordination of electric transmission infrastructure projects by applicable agencies.

In addition, the team would be responsible for updating the federal transmission tracking system, known as e-Trans, and facilitating communications among team members on agency action items.

The bill also would establish an Office of Transmission ombudsperson within FERC to provide a unified point of contact for resolving interagency issues or delays on transmission permits. According to the bill, the ombudsperson would establish a process for facilitating the permitting process for performance of maintenance upgrades to transmission lines on federal and non-federal lands and resolving complaints regarding in-process transmission permits.

Murkowski also introduced the Bulk-Power System Reliability Impact Statement Act, S. 1221, which would require an assessment of the potential effects of any major federal regulation on the reliability of U.S. bulk power system.

According to the bill, FERC would be empowered to solicit a reliability impact statement from reliability coordinators on major new rules issued by a federal agency that may significantly affect the power grid. The reliability impact statement would include a statement on the effect of the proposed rule on the operation of the power grid and alternatives to cure those effects.

In addition, any federal agency issuing a proposed major rule subject to a reliability impact statement would have to consider the statement in issuing the rule and include in the final rule a detailed response to the statement.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 14 will hear testimony on S. 1217 and S. 1221 as well as 20 other bills, including S. 1017, a bill to amend the Federal Power Act to improve the siting of interstate electric transmission facilities and S. 1243, a bill to facilitate modernizing the electric grid.

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