Building and expanding electric transmission infrastructure often requires multiple layers of permitting, siting, and regulatory authority to come to fruition, especially if the transmission line extends through multiple states and regions. To expedite and streamline this process, the Federal Power Act authorizes the Secretary of Energy to designate any geographic area as a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC) if the Secretary finds that current or anticipated future electric energy transmission capacity constraints or congestion are adversely affecting consumers. These routes can range in length up to several hundred miles. Designation of NIETCs can assist in focusing commercial investments signal opportunities for beneficial development to transmission planning entities and unlock siting and permitting tools for transmission projects in identified areas.
A NIETC designation can unlock Federal financing tools, specifically public-private partnerships through the $2.5 billion Transmission Facilitation Program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the $2 billion Transmission Facility Financing Loan Program under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). A NIETC designation also allows the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to grant permits for the siting of transmission lines within the NIETC under circumstances where state siting authorities do not have authority to site the line, have not acted on an application to site the line for over one year, or have denied an application.
NIETCs are designated based in part on findings from the triennial assessment of national transmission constraints and congestion that DOE conducts pursuant to the Federal Power Act. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, Congress expanded the scope of this assessment, now called the National Transmission Needs Study (Needs Study), to include both historic and anticipated future capacity constraints and transmission congestion. This expansion allows the Needs Study to more accurately identify high-priority national transmission needs—specifically, opportunities for linking communities to new transmission facilities or upgrading existing facilities to improve reliability and resilience of the power system, reduce transmission congestion during real-time operations, alleviate power transfer capacity limits between neighboring regions, or deliver cost-effective generation to meet both high-priced demand and future generation needs.
While the results of the Needs Study will highlight the greatest national transmission need, industry and stakeholder feedback is essential to informing DOE’s NIETC designation process. This feedback can identify ongoing project roadblocks such as permitting, siting, or regulatory issues. Increasing stakeholder engagement is one way DOE is seeking to increase NIETC geographic specificity to drive concrete and timely action, spur additional transmission development to solve transmission limitations that are adversely impacting consumers, and improve environmental reviews.
On May 9, 2023, the Grid Deployment Office issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) and Request for Information (RFI) to inform an applicant-driven, route-specific process to designate NIETCs that will unlock new financing and regulatory tools to spur immediate investments. The RFI sought feedback on final guidelines, procedures, and evaluation criteria for the designation process. The comment period closed on July 31, 2023. A public webinar was held on May 17, 2023. View the presentation slides.
DOE plans to issue the results of the National Transmission Needs Study this summer and NIETC application guidance in fall 2023.