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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Federal Government’s Role in Electric Transmission Facility Siting

Adam Vann
Legislative Attorney

James V. DeBergh
Legislative Attorney

The location and permitting of electricity transmission lines and facilities have traditionally been the exclusive province of the states, with only limited exceptions. However, the inability to get transmission lines built due to local interests, as well as competition in generation, has resulted in calls for an increased role for the federal government in transmission siting.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct; P.L. 109-58) established a role for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in transmission siting. The act directed DOE to create “transmission corridors” in locations with adequate transmission capacity. The act also granted FERC secondary authority over transmission siting in the corridors. This new federal role in a decision-making process that had previously been the province of state governments was predictably met with resistance from those seeking to protect local and regional interests. Although the process of creating “transmission corridors” and increasing the federal role in transmission siting has moved forward, the Ninth Circuit recently vacated the congestion study that led to the designation of two such corridors. Nonetheless, there have been calls for further expansion of the federal role in transmission siting by some policymakers and commentators.

This report looks at the history of transmission siting and the reason for an increased federal role in siting decisions, explains the new federal role in transmission siting pursuant to EPAct, and discusses legal issues related to this and any potential future expansions of the federal role.

Date of Report: September
8, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
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