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Can the US transmission planning process support a renewable energy future? FERC seeks comments

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANOPR) related to transmission reform. The ANOPR, titled Building for the Future Through Electric Regional Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation and Generator Interconnection, recognizes that the electricity system is changing with the addition of more and more renewable energy provided by intermittent sources of fuel like wind and solar. The new energy mix creates a need for expanded transmission and FERC wants to understand if its existing approach to transmission planning, cost allocation and interconnection is still relevant.

To that end, FERC is seeking comments on a more forward-looking approach to how we build and allocate the cost of transmission infrastructure in this country. It invites the public to comment on potential reforms to improve transmission planning and cost allocation and generator interconnection processes as the nation transitions to a cleaner energy future.

“As the generation fleet shifts at an unprecedented rate from resources located closer to population centers towards resources located far from load centers, we must evaluate whether our transmission planning and cost allocation and generator interconnection processes require a more innovative and anticipatory approach,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said.

“A piecemeal approach to expanding the transmission system is not going to get the job done. We must take steps today to build the transmission that tomorrow’s new generation resources will require.”

Three areas of focus

The Commission is seeking public comment on potential reforms in three specific areas:

  • reforms for longer-term regional transmission planning and cost-allocation processes that take into account anticipated future generation,
  • rethinking cost responsibility for regional transmission facilities and interconnection-related network upgrades, and
  • enhanced transmission oversight over how new transmission facilities are identified and paid for.

Learn more about the ANOPR here. Comments, identified by Docket No. RM21-17, are due 75 days after publication in the Federal Register. Reply comments are due 105 days after publication in the Federal Register.

“Today’s action is a critical first step in ensuring that FERC is thinking innovatively and actually anticipating transmission that will meet the needs of new generation as our nation continues to aggressively transition to a clean energy future,” Chairman Glick said. “This is the Commission’s first effort at major transmission reform in a decade and I look forward to moving as expeditiously as possible to advance these conversations.”

Clean Energy Industry Responds

The Solar Energy Industries Assocation recognizes that this ANOPR is the first time in a decade that FERC has started to address transmission reform, which could level the playing field and improve market access for solar and storage assets.

Gizelle Wray, director of regulatory affairs and counsel for SEIA believes the move is encouraging and could help  “overcome utility-imposed market challenges that have hampered clean energy development across the United States,” she said in a statement.

“We need to quickly ramp up solar and storage deployment to address climate change and generate new economic opportunities, but the interconnection rules today allow utilities to put clean energy projects to the side and leave them in the interconnection queue for years. We cannot have projects in a perpetual waiting room when we need to deploy hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy over the next 10 years.

Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) also welcomes the news.

“We commend FERC, and in particular the leadership of Chairman Glick, for recognizing the role that planning, cost allocation and interconnection processes all play in achieving this critical objective,” he said in a statement. “As FERC starts tackling regional issues, we look forward to future Commission action on interregional processes necessary to connect centers of high renewable resources with centers of high electric demand. Finally, we encourage President Biden to expeditiously nominate a fifth FERC commissioner to ensure the continuity and progress of the Commission’s important work.”

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