AWEA Applauds Administration Steps to Streamline Transmission Siting on Public Lands

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) enthusiastically supports a new policy announced by the Administration that will greatly facilitate efforts to access world-class renewable energy resources currently stranded in remote parts of the country. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) announced will streamline the transmission permitting process for federal lands by improving coordination among nine federal agencies and creating timelines to limit delays in the permit approval process.

“The wind industry applauds the Obama Administration for recognizing the need to address transmission barriers and enacting a measure to improve the speed and ease with which transmission can be constructed across federal lands. This MOU is an important step towards putting more of our abundant renewable energy resources to use, powering American homes and businesses with clean, domestic sources of energy while creating thousands of high-paying jobs here in America” noted AWEA’s CEO Denise Bode.

Currently, lengthy delays in the process of obtaining the necessary permits from federal agencies to build transmission lines across federal land are a major barrier to accessing the country’s best renewable energy resources. This is particularly true in the Western U.S. where the federal government owns more than one-half of the land and any interstate transmission line is likely to cross land controlled by one or more federal entities.

AWEA’s Bode added, “The policy announced today is an important complement to legislative measures that have been proposed in the Senate to update policies that govern how transmission is planned, paid for, and permitted. Investment in our grid has lagged because our transmission policies have failed to keep up with changes in the electric sector, like the growing need to access renewable energy resources. Reforms like the steps announced today are critical for meeting our country’s clean energy and climate goals, and we urge Congress, the Administration, and state and federal regulatory authorities to take further action to streamline transmission permitting processes and implement broad transmission cost allocation policies.”

AWEA is the national trade association of America’s wind industry, with more than 2,500 member companies, including global leaders in wind power and energy development, wind turbine manufacturing, component and service suppliers, and the world’s largest wind power trade show. AWEA is the voice of wind energy in the U.S., promoting renewable energy to power a cleaner, stronger America.

Transmission remains the single biggest obstacle to realizing the full potential of wind power and other forms of renewable energy. The latest proof of this thesis is a decision announced late last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The case involved two utilities and several wind generators in the Midwest, and the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), the independent entity established by FERC to regulate transmission in a broad area of the Midwest.

The wind generators wanted to connect to the grid, to deliver power to their customers. The companies that operate the transmission in that region, Otter Tail Power Co. and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. (MDU), a subsidiary of MDU Resources Group, wanted the wind companies to pay almost all the costs for the transmission improvements needed to carry the extra electricity. But the wind companies (and AWEA) argued that since other power generators would benefit from the grid improvements, the costs should be spread more broadly among MISO’s users.

MISO, the grid operator, and FERC, which oversees MISO, sided with the utilities. Their decision–announced quietly late on a Friday afternoon– illustrates the crux of the “cost allocation” issue that has been a stumbling block for transmission improvements: new transmission infrastructure for wind and other renewables can only be built if the costs are allocated broadly among all transmission users. But getting that accomplished is difficult, if not impossible, under the existing rules (and players) of the game.

AWEA’s Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy, expressed the frustration felt by many in the wind industry, especially since there were less drastic solutions available for solving the problems faced by Otter Tail, and MDU. “This decision is baffling. How did we go from a problem for just two small utilities to a region-wide policy that hinders the transmission investment and renewable energy development that all four Commissioners say they want? It is not hard to guess what cost allocation plan the anti-transmission utilities in MISO will continue to push.”

He added, “At some point FERC and the states will need to exercise some leadership,” and noted that in its ruling last week, the FERC commissioners said their decision was an “interim approach” and that MISO was working on a new cost allocation system that they hope to unveil next year.