Cheney’s Law Doesn’t Go Far Enough — FERC’s Wellinghoff Wants Total Control of Power Line Siting

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff is in the process of staging a coup.  He wants total control of the federal transmission line programs that were split between the Department of Energy and FERC in Dick Cheney’s 2005 Energy Policy Act.  Mr. Wellinghoff has circulated the following outline of his plans as shown at this link.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

An efficient, reliable electric transmission grid is critical to the economy and security of the United States.  In the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), Congress recognized the national interest in a strong grid, and, accordingly, gave the Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to conduct studies of electric transmission congestion, and then designate as national interest electric transmission corridors (NIETCs) areas experiencing electric energy transmission constraints or congestion that adversely affected consumers.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was given authority to issue permits within NIETCs for the construction of electric transmission facilities as a backstop to state siting activities under certain circumstances.

To date, no construction permits for projects in NIETCs have been issued.  Only one applicant proposing to site a project within a NIETC began the pre-filing process at FERC, and the applicant subsequently withdrew from the process.  Clearly, the backstop transmission procedure established by Congress has not yet been effective. [emphasis mine]

Depite Mr. Wellinghoff’s claim, the backstop transmission procedure has been very effective in the cases of PATH and MAPP, because it kept FERC out of the way while the state PSCs went about their job of determining that these projects were not needed.  Mr. Wellinghoff’s assertion that backstop authority had anything to do with killing PATH and MAPP is crazy, because PJM Interconnection and the power companies themselves, the primary sponsors of these projects, were the parties that killed the projects.

Now, of course, what Mr. Wellinghoff really means here is that federal backstop authority was not effective in ramming through expensive transmission projects that weren’t needed.  He is using the words “efficient” and “effective” only from the standpoint of the power companies that he is supposed to be regulating.  It is now clear exactly where Mr. Wellinghoff stands — firmly with the energy conglomerates that run the US electrical system.  There is no longer any ambiguity about his position.

Mr. Wellinghoff wants mega-transmission lines strung from sea to shining sea and he wants US rate payers to foot the bill for them, and excess profits for the power companies.  He wants to streamline Cheney’s Energy Policy Act allowing FERC to have sole authority over any environmental impact statement processes and to run roughshod over state regulators.  As Mr. Wellinghoff says:

Unifying federal authority with respect to siting interstate transmission projects would allow a more efficient, directed process.  The proposal envisions a three-step process:  first, delegation by DOE to FERC authorizing FERC to conduct triennial congestion studies; second, delegation by DOE to FERC authorizing FERC to designate NIETCs; and, third, consideration by FERC of applications for both project-specific NIETC designation and permits for construction of interstate transmission projects within  project-specific NIETCs.

Mr. Wellinghoff’s new permitting process would combine NEPA, NIETC and federal power line permitting processes into a combined process that would remove individuals and local communities even further from the siting process.  Citizens in communities threatened by new transmission projects would face the possibility of having to defend themselves in three or four federal and state permitting processes at the same time.

This is clearly a gambit designed by FERC and the electricity industry to handcuff local communities.  How could volunteers, many of whom have the most to lose in the process, devote the time required to be effective in such a bureaucratic labyrinth?  Wellinghoff is revving up the FERC steamroller, and it is coming for us.

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