Building a New Grid Without New Legislation: A Path to Revitalizing Federal Transmission Authorities
62 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020
Date Written: October 19, 2020
New long-distance, high-voltage transmission will be vital if the United States is to integrate the renewable generation needed to decarbonize the electric system at sufficient scale and at reasonable cost. Congress would ideally take action to address the regulatory and economic barriers that currently prevent long-distance high-voltage transmission from being developed at the necessary speed and scale. But until Congress acts, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should use the existing authorities they have to advance transmission development. However, it has become conventional wisdom that development of new long-distance high-voltage transmission projects are hopeless without new legislation because opponents can exploit veto points created by state laws and state-level institutions involved in transmission siting decisions. As this article explains, that conventional wisdom is wrong. Congress has already enacted authorities that the federal government can use to counteract siting-related obstacles. To date, those authorities have either not been used or have been used unsuccessfully. In part, this is the result of unfavorable judicial interpretations of those authorities, but those interpretations are not fatal. Given the urgent need for energy system transformation, now is the time for the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revisit the authorities that they have been given. This article recommends steps for those agencies to take now that would allow them to side-step the obstacles and revitalize the provisions Congress already adopted in order to facilitate transmission system development.
Keywords: Law, electricity, transmission, grid, high-voltage, climate change, renewables, siting, land use
JEL Classification: K23, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation