Most of the reporting on the last-minute negotiations among Democrats on the ACES bill covered efforts to appease farm state Democrats. Here is a robust take on that bargaining from a usually temperate Washington Post business columnist. But other parts of the bill were in play, too, and we assume you have not heard as much about them. We indicated in this publication last week that there were serious efforts underway to expand the transmission provisions in ACES. The proponents of expanding the transmission language finally won out and substantial changes to the transmission planning section were incorporated into the final version that passed on Friday. The new transmission language limits the existing federal backstop siting authority under section 216 of the Federal Power Act to the Eastern interconnection and to interstate lines and intrastate segments that are integral to a proposed interstate line. The provision also establishes for the Western interconnect a new one-step process at FERC that would allow backstop siting of a transmission line where the proposed transmission line is multistate, developed through a certain form of planning process, is required in significant measure to deliver renewable energy, and was not approved in a reasonable time by a state despite the state having received a complete application. The new language also establishes FERC as the lead agency for coordinating federal authorizations for siting except when a line is proposed to be sited on federal lands and FERC and the Department of Interior agree that Interior should be the lead agency.
According to this BNA report:
“Inslee's provision applies only to the so-called Western Interconnection and not to the rest of the country, in order to avoid conflicting with [Cong.] Markey's views. Markey strongly opposes giving FERC authority to override Northeastern states on transmission siting.
In Markey's view, the Northeast should take advantage of new wind energy resources off the Atlantic coast to meet future generation needs. East Coast consumers do not need to pay high electricity prices to build transmission for transporting electric generation from the Midwest and neighboring regions, Markey has said.
However, in the West, the construction and upgrading of high-voltage transmission lines is considered essential for the large wind farms and solar parks that have been proposed for development there. The original Waxman-Markey bill approved May 21 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee did not expand FERC authority over transmission siting and included a brief provision for enhanced regional planning.
Still, the House language is not nearly as strong as the leading Senate energy bill, approved June 17 by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which would give FERC the power to override a state that refuses to site a designated high priority transmission line. The Inslee language conforms with the views of FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a Nevada lawyer and advocate of renewable energy, who has called for expanding and modernizing the nation's high-voltage transmission grid.
Inslee's language also makes changes to 2005 legislation that created so-called national electric transmission corridors, which have not resulted in any new expansions and is considered a failure by many.” 122 DER AA-3
With so much having been done to mollify farm state interests in the final ACES bill, transmission issues are likely to have a relative prominence in the Senate debate that they didn’t achieve in the House. Get prepared for some very arcane discussions of cost-sharing, priority for renewables, and preemption of state and regional authorities, and keep an eye out for a “consensus” proposal from FERC.