White House takes bold new steps for better transmission development

President Barack Obama after a 2012 tour of the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility in Boulder City, Nevada. One of the administration's challenges is helping to determine suitable corridors for transmission development, to move power like solar energy to our homes and business with the fewest impacts to our wildlands and wildlife. 

Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson

In a welcomed announcement, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum (PM) on improving electricity transmission siting, permitting and review.

The memorandum specifically calls on federal agencies to collaborate on identifying suitable places on public lands that avoid sensitive natural and cultural resources and advance clean energy deployment. In particular, the PM sets out revised timetables for complying with the negotiated settlement on litigation filed by The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups and a Colorado county on transmission corridors designated by the Bush administration (the West-wide Energy Corridors).

The PM also calls for a landscape-scale inter-agency mitigation plan to be developed for all identified corridors and extensive pre-application stakeholder engagement procedures that should give non-governmental stakeholders (like The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups and non-governmental organizations) a much better opportunity to help identify conflicts before permit applications are submitted.   

Transmission development can have serious impacts on the land, but plays an important role in supporting wind and solar projects. Building only what we need and avoiding paths through sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat should be a priority.  With an aging transmission grid and dozens of major projects proposed across the nation, being careful about how new lines are sited and built will be crucial over the coming years.

The administration and the Department of the Interior are smart to invest time and resources into regional planning efforts and opportunities to proactively identify corridors that can help bring renewable energy online with the least amount of impacts. 

Even with smart planning and construction and efforts to avoid sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat, needed new transmission lines will cause impacts.  For that reason, it is also important to pursue improved “mitigation” practices to offset those impacts by protecting and restoring habitat near the transmission lines.  With a comprehensive approach that includes strong mitigation offsets, we can ensure that conservation goals are not undermined and, where possible, even advanced

This PM, the ongoing re-evaluation of the West-Wide Energy Corridors and the efforts of the Rapid Response Transmission Team are all key opportunities to advance these goals, helping protect our natural heritage and meet our clean energy goals.