October 13, 2021
Conservation groups want a seat at the table as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission begins the largest rewrite of grid policy in a decade.
The National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation joined with energy policy mainstays the Center for Renewables Integration, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Vote Solar in a filing with FERC on Tuesday.
The groups’ missions: To get the commission to consider both land use and new technologies as it reimagines how we connect to and transmit power along the nation’s grid. It will be the largest rewrite of transmission and interconnection policy since FERC Order 1000 in 2011.
“The future of energy is absolutely bound to the future of conservation,” said Gary Moody, director of state and local climate strategy at the National Audubon Society. “Climate change is the number one threat to birds, and two-thirds of North American bird species will be vulnerable to extinction if we don’t lower emissions. We have a vested interest in accelerating our transition to a cleaner energy future. But planning this new infrastructure must take into account its impact on local habitats and communities. This coalition stands ready to work together to responsibly create a new grid that benefits both people and wildlife.”
The groups’ first goal is to have FERC incorporate siting – the planning of the actual locations of power lines, substations, and transmission towers – as part of the approval process for power projects.
Currently, transmission planning is done at the federal level, with the specific routes of power lines left to state agencies. This can hamstring projects, by not giving transmission companies enough time to rework plans as situations develop and not giving communities a chance to provide valuable input before plans are set.
Making siting a consideration earlier in the process is an opportunity for FERC to streamline planning, letting agencies consider the locations of the lines as they determine the destination of the energy.
In addition to siting issues, the filing also drew attention to the advanced transmission technologies that can, and should, help form the backbone of a 21st century electric grid. These include both “grid-enhancing technologies” that help existing power lines run more efficiently and “distributed energy resources” like rooftop solar panels, home batteries and smart meters that take some of the burden off those lines.
An approach that incorporates both traditional transmission lines and these modern technologies will help the nation hit 100% clean energy faster, cheaper and more efficiently.
Reaching 100% renewable energy using transmission lines alone could require as much as $700 billion. This cost could be significantly reduced by smartly deploying advanced transmission technologies, according to “Beyond Wires,” a report released earlier this year by coalition members ELPC and CRI.
Time is also an issue. As transmission line projects can take years, if not a decade, to plan, approve and construct, the waitlist to get connected to the grid is ballooning. Planned projects are dropping out of this interconnection queue at an increasing rate. This particularly hurts clean energy, which makes up the majority of new generation projects getting built.
“This is a climate issue, a conservation issue and an energy issue. Coalitions like ours are trying to break down the silos that keep people from seeing we’re all in it together,” said ELPC Staff Attorney Justin Vickers, a co-author of the report. “FERC right now has a chance to reimagine how we power the nation in a way that benefits us all. We’re excited about that. We want FERC to get excited too.”
This is the first set of comments in a 1 to 2 year process to develop and approve new rules.