- Interstate and interregional electricity transmission are crucial for achieving a net-zero carbon electricity sector.
- High-voltage transmission among regions provides aggregate resilience and reliability benefits beyond the individual benefits to each state.
- The decentralized siting and permitting process for transmission lines causes significant project delays and cancellations.
- Primary federal siting authority would provide certainty to developers, support transmission expansion, and unlock progress towards a decarbonized grid.
- Any expansion of federal eminent domain authority must address existing problems in the implementation of the Natural Gas Act and provide stronger landowner protections.
In a country seeking investment in rural areas and greater access to clean energy, long-distance electricity transmission is infrastructure that could generate meaningful benefits. By connecting rural areas with high renewables- potential to large demand centers, long-distance transmission can provide access to low-carbon energy for consumers and economic opportunity for both landowners and energy producers in rural areas. Interstate and interregional transmission can also decrease costs for consumers and increase the resilience of the grid. But development of this valuable and flexible asset for a clean grid and a growing economy needs to accelerate.
Transmission is winning the attention of policymakers. The Biden administration has set out a goal of net-zero carbon electricity by 2035. The American Jobs Plan released on March 31 proposes a 10-year investment tax credit to support 20 gigawatts of high-voltage transmission line capacity to “move cheaper, cleaner electricity.” Last year, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis went further and called for Congress to “upgrade and expand electric transmission infrastructure to tap new renewable energy sources, develop a long-term electric infrastructure strategy, and build toward a National Supergrid.” Most transmission existing today has a limited geographic footprint, and power typically flows from a power plant to a particular load center. A National Supergrid is a series of interconnected, high-capacity, high-voltage lines that would expand markets for clean energy by transmitting electricity around the country.
This is not a Democrats-only issue. Chuck Grassley, the Republican senator from Iowa, has recognized the economic value of wind energy for three decades, authoring the wind energy production tax-credit legislation in 1992. He has clearly articulated the benefits of wind development for his state, including rural areas, and rightly noted that “new transmission lines have the opportunity to make wind power more reliable, accessible and available to the areas they serve.”
In this policy brief we describe how a climate-resilient grid will deliver aggregate national benefits beyond that which are realizable by individual states. We then use recent cases to illustrate how state-based siting and permitting policies are incompatible with development of interstate transmission lines. Finally, by examining the patchwork of available federal authorities, we make the case for congressional action to grant primary siting authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for high-capacity interstate transmission lines.