Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

No country for energy corridors

Posted by Rich Sweeney on March 26, 2008

I can think of very few issues more handicapped by NIMBYism than the siting of transmission lines. Unlike nuclear power or other issues susceptible to NIMBY, it seems that everyone thinks expanding the interregional transmission capacity is a good idea. Just as long as the wires don’t go through wildlife preserves. Or Indian lands. Or historical battlefields…….

Recognizing that some interest group would find a way to effectively block just about any proposed corridor location, Congress intervened. Section 216(a) of the Federal Power Act (created by section 1221(a) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005) directs DOE to identify transmission congestion and constraint problems. In addition, section 216(a) authorizes the Secretary, in his discretion, to designate geographic areas where transmission congestion or constraints adversely affect consumers as National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (National Corridors). In English, Congress basically told the DOE to identify where it would like to expand transmission, ignoring all other federal constraints. My (limited) understanding is that state level claims may still holdup siting, but the DOE will be exempt from getting siting approval from any other federal agencies. Three years later, after an extensive public comment period, the DOE affirmed its NIETC corridor designations, and it looked like it was full speed ahead towards badly needed transmission expansion.

Enter the Wilderness Society. In a press release last week, the group announced that it had filed a lawsuit against the DOE for “failing properly consider public comment* or exclude areas in California that are designated wilderness, national monuments, national parks and roadless forest lands.” (The subheading also mentions “historic battlefields” which had me wondering why the hell we preserve those anyway). I’m no attorney, but it appears that the suit is challenging whether or not Congress really intended to preempt other federal claims when it passed the Federal Power Act. If this claim sticks, it could be back to square one for expanding transmission. Stay tuned.

*** Shalini Vajjhala, Karen Palmer, Anthony Paul and I also submitted a comment to the DOE, highlighting the important interrelationship between transmission siting and renewable energy expansion. We’re finishing up the discussion paper this month, and I’ll post a link on CT as soon as its done. Note that we’re not currently considering suing should the DOE ignore our comment😉

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