Sponsored by Clean Line Energy and written by Erin Szalkowski, Corporate Counsel – Clean Line Energy
The transmission challenge
The United States possesses some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, but it also faces a serious challenge: there is a lack of transmission capacity to deliver that energy to market. Clean Line Energy Partners LLC (“Clean Line”) is an independent developer of long-haul transmission lines that will deliver thousands of megawatts of renewable power from the windiest areas of the United States to communities and cities that have a strong demand for clean, reliable energy but that lack access to clean energy resources.
The need for transmission projects will continue to grow as electricity demand increases in the United States and as the demand for clean, cost-effective power sources accelerates. The existing transmission system was created primarily as a result of local utility planning to connect population centers with nearby fossil fuel power plants; it is now insufficient to meet the demands of our new energy economy. We need long-haul transmission lines to move America’s vast renewable energy resources to market. At Clean Line, we are developing several projects to provide these resources to load centers, but along with exploring new horizons comes the challenge of tackling uncharted regulatory territory.
Clean Line has five projects under development that span eleven states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, New Mexico, Arizona, and California) and that have a footprint in six transmission planning regions, resulting in the need for extensive stakeholder outreach, the consideration of regional benefits, and multiple state approvals. In the process of addressing the national transmission challenge, Clean Line faces several regulatory hurdles.
No state transmission line siting process is the same, and Clean Line is navigating varying statutory requirements in all eleven project states. Some states have statutes written a long time ago that didn’t contemplate electric transmission lines of the magnitude of Clean Line’s projects. Other states have more recent statutes that do contemplate projects like ours – interstate merchant transmission projects – but there have been no other such projects to date and therefore there is no precedent to which we can refer.
Some states have a single process and some have a bifurcated, or two-step, process through which an entity has to go to construct an electric transmission line. Differing eligibility requirements mean that we have to be a public utility in some states but not in others, what is or is not in the “public interest” changes by state, and whether or not our line has to serve customers in the state may or may not be a statutory requirement.
There are also challenges on the federal level. Each of Clean Line’s four high voltage direct current transmission lines originates in the footprint of one transmission planning region and connects back into the grid in the footprint of another. There are currently no federal rules that comprehensively govern interregional merchant transmission development. Order 1000 issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) is a good starting point for addressing some of these issues – it requires transmission providers to identify regional solutions through participation in a regional planning process – but in order to fully solve the lack of long-haul transmission in the United States, FERC needs to go a few steps further in addressing interregional coordination. A requirement for a single study process, encompassing all affected states and regions of a particular project, would go a long way to streamline the development process for interregional transmission projects.
Clean Line is working closely with state and federal agencies to understand and solve the regulatory challenges that we face. Our approach is to identify each issue, based both in statute and in precedent, and to work with local counsel and Commission (or other regulatory body) Staff in each state to ensure that we meet the necessary requirements to develop and to construct our projects. We are now a public utility in three states, and we are working diligently, preparing to apply for utility status in the other states in which it is required to construct and operate electric transmission lines. Communication and collaboration are key, and Clean Line has spent a great deal of time and resources to date – and will continue to do so – to build relationships and maintain an open dialogue so that we can advance our projects and help to build the energy infrastructure necessary to support the wind-rich energy mix of the future.