Because we were so focused on PATH here in WV, we completely missed the development of the 2009 National Impact Electric Transmission Corridor plan. This process, mandated in the Cheney-inspired 2005 Energy Policy Act, is conducted by the US Dept. of Energy every three years. The NEITC project rests on some dubious assumptions about something called “transmission congestion” which has never really been defined.
The word “congestion” brings to mind the somewhat scary notion that the US transmission system may be clogged like a water or sewer pipe. Power company propaganda always tries to imply that this kind of congestion is a real danger at the present time. Power company media managers use words like “ brownouts,” “blackouts” and “reliability” to herd compliant reporters into thinking that this is the real menace.
Actual capacity congestion is fairly rare, and short lived, on the US grid because (1) the extensive and interconnected bulk transmission system makes it relatively simple to reroute electricity around physical bottlenecks, and (2) grid managers are highly skilled and have a wide range of sophisticated control technology on hand.
If you look behind the media accounts and read what power companies and regulators really say to each other, this kind of congestion is rarely discussed as a problem. Instead, you will see lots of talk about “economic congestion.” Economic congestion is not a physical problem with the transmission system. It is created only by the rules that govern how grid managers select sources of power that they send to meet increased load on their system.
In addition to dispatch rules, which have distorted investment and innovation on the US grid, the ever-increasing centralization of the grid has meant that many areas of high population no longer generate their own power locally. Particularly at times of high demand, under current dispatch rules, grid managers are required to bring in power from hundreds of miles away because the power pricing system has been rigged to favor large power plants sited away from population centers, mainly because they are coal-fired and extremely polluting.
So, as I said above, we missed the last NIETC process that rigged the game in favor of big and foolish high voltage transmission projects like PATH. A lot has changed since 2009. The last NIETC designation was completely thrown out in the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit judges ordered the DoE to significantly increase participation by state regulators in the process and also required much a more extensive environmental impact study than in the past.
Of course, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission came up with an ingenious plan to put the NIETC designation process directly in the hands of the power companies. Late last year, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff suggested that the DoE turn over the NIETC process to FERC, in violation of federal law. Wellinghoff wanted to completely reverse the 2005 Energy Policy Act so that power companies would identify where they wanted to put transmission lines, and then they would develop the corridor designation to justify their projects. This obviously crazy scheme met with almost universal criticism, especially from Congress.
Over at Stop PATH, Keryn has the latest update on the current NIETC process with suggestions about how we can all get involved, including links to the public comment process. The comment deadline is March 30, so if you have ideas you would like to share with the Dept. of Energy planners, you only have two weeks. They need to hear from us this time.