How frequently do ten states and fifteen environmental groups join forces on the same issue? Not often, unless you happen to be talking about the exciting world of transmission.
In what some would call an “electrifying” lawsuit, state attorneys general joined with green groups in 2008 to collectively challenge the Department of Energy’s flawed implementation of regional designations known as National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs). And just recently, we won!
So what exactly are we talking about here? In 2007, the Department of Energy (DOE) designated 220 cities and counties in ten states as part of the nation’s first two NIETCs. Designation of an NIETC gives electric utilities access to federal eminent domain to condemn private property and the right to have the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission override state authority, for the siting of high-voltage transmission lines.
NIETC designation was based on a “source-and-sink” approach to electricity planning. What does this mean in plain economic terms? DOE’s corridors (read: enormous blobs on a map) supported a transmission expansion plan to bring cheap coal power to areas of urban areas of high electricity demand. When looking towards a new energy economy for the twenty-first century—thousands of citizens, elected officials and advocacy organizations thought this approach led the American electricity economy down the wrong path.
The opinion issued by the 9th Circuit rests largely on the fact that the law requires that the DOE engage in a meaningful consultation process with states and conduct an environmental analysis—two important steps that DOE failed to take prior to designating corridors over large portions of eight states in the Mid-Atlantic and California and Arizona—an area collectively covering over 100 million acres.
The 9th Circuit decision requires DOE to start from scratch in identifying new national congestion areas and corridor designations, while taking into consideration impacts to state policies and on the environment. This includes considerations such as how to reduce congestion on the grid, inclusion of important wild, historic, and cultural resources, and meaningful consultation with states to determine regional priorities such as the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative the Western Climate Initiative, and states’ renewable portofolio standards.
As TWS continues to work with our partners in the regulatory and environmental community, this decision only reaffirms the importance of committing to a comprehensive approach to ensuring reliable electricity from cleaner sources—one which values stakeholder involvement and our environment while planning towards the future.