The siting and permitting of interstate and inter-regional high-voltage transmission typically requires action by many different authorities governing the federal, state, local, tribal, and private lands that facilities will pass through. Projects involving multiple agencies are subject to a wide array of processes and procedural requirements for compliance with legal mandates and multiple authorizations. The time required to meet these legal mandates can be reduced through effective planning processes that take advantage of existing rights-of-way.
But where such rights-of-way are not available, siting and permitting processes can significantly slow development and should be conducted efficiently, with clear expectations and predictable timelines and processes. This should occur without sacrificing critical analysis, protection of environmental, cultural, and other important values, or robust public engagement.
DOE intends to coordinate with states, tribes, and federal permitting agencies to help facilitate the siting and permitting process, including through consideration of the following actions:
Federal Permitting Coordination
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) declares it a national policy to enhance and, to the extent possible, increase the coordination and communication among Federal agencies with authority to site electric transmission facilities. Section 1221(a) of EPAct of 2005 added a new section to the Federal Power Act—entitled section 216(h), “Coordination of Federal Authorizations for Transmission Facilities”—which directs the U.S. Department of Energy to serve as the Lead Agency for coordinating all Federal authorizations and related environment reviews needed for siting interstate electric transmission projects. In addition, on May 4, 2023, the Department of Energy and eight other Federal agencies finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to further improve Federal coordination of environmental reviews and authorizations for electric transmission projects.
On August 10, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy proposed a rule to establish the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits (CITAP) Program to accelerate Federal environmental review and permitting processes for qualifying onshore electric transmission facilities. Consistent with the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, the Program aims toward a better coordinated, more streamlined process that will set deadlines for Federal authorizations and permits for electric transmission on a two-year timeline while ensuring meaningful engagement with Tribes, local communities, and other stakeholders.
Permitting and Siting Assistance
On August 29, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a funding opportunity of up to $300 million in grants to accelerate and strengthen electric transmission siting and permitting processes. The Transmission Siting and Economic Development (TSED) grant program is a new initiative designed to overcome state and local challenges to expanding transmission capacity while also supporting communities along major new and upgraded lines.
Public-Private Partnership Projects
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes authority for the Secretary to enter into public-private partnerships for the development of transmission facilities. The Administrators of two of DOE’s Power Marketing Authorities, Southwestern Power Administration (SWPA) and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), similarly have authority to enter into public private-partnerships for the development of transmission facilities specifically in their jurisdictions. In this way DOE can help facilitate transmission development in areas where state or local permitting requirements would otherwise make a project difficult or impossible to complete.
Designation of National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs)
To expedite and streamline the permitting and siting of electric transmission infrastructure, the Federal Power Act authorizes the Secretary of Energy to designate any geographic area, such as a route, 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.
Designation of NIETCs can assist in focusing commercial facilitation, 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.
Incorporating industry and stakeholder feedback into the process can help identify ongoing project roadblocks such as permitting, siting, or regulatory issues. These issues can be particularly challenging to navigate when a transmission project runs through multiple states or regions requiring many layers of approvals. 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.
DOE and FERC intend to work together, as appropriate, to establish coordinated procedures that facilitate efficient information gathering related to the scope of activities under review pursuant to these authorities.
Federal International Electricity Program
U.S. trade in electric energy with Canada and Mexico is rising, bringing economic and reliability benefits to the United States and its trading partners. The Grid Deployment Office is responsible for authorizing exports of electric energy and issuing Presidential permits for the construction, operation, maintenance, and connection of electric transmission facilities at the international border.