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DOE Issues Final Transmission Permitting Reform Rule

[Editor's Note: a short summary of this news was first published in the April 26 issue of Public Power Current Extra].

The Biden-Harris Administration on April 25 announced a final transmission permitting reform rule and a new commitment for up to $331 million aimed at adding more than 2,000 megawatts of additional grid capacity throughout the Western United States.

The Department of Energy issued a final rule to establish the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits (CITAP) Program, which aims to significantly improve federal environmental reviews and permitting processes for qualifying transmission projects.

Under the CITAP Program, DOE will coordinate a federal integrated interagency process to consolidate Federal environmental reviews and authorizations within a standard two-year schedule while ensuring meaningful engagement with Tribes, local communities, and other stakeholders.

The final rule, initiated and completed in under a year, implements a May 2023 interagency Memorandum of Understanding to expedite the siting, permitting, and construction of electric transmission infrastructure in the United States.  

The CITAP program helps transmission developers navigating the federal review process, providing: 

Improved Permitting Review with Two-Year Timelines: DOE will serve as the lead coordinator for environmental review and permitting activities between all participating Federal agencies and project developers, ultimately making the Federal permitting process for transmission projects more efficient. DOE will lead an interagency pre-application process to ensure that developer submissions for Federal authorizations are ready for review on binding two-year timelines, without compromising critical National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. “This will significantly improve the efficiency of the permitting process for project developers by collecting information necessary for required Federal authorizations to site a transmission facility before starting the permitting process,” DOE said.  

Sustained Integrity in Environmental Review Process: DOE will work with the relevant agencies to prepare a single NEPA environmental review document to support each relevant Federal agency’s permit decision making, reducing duplication of work. Further, state siting authorities may participate in the CITAP Program alongside Federal agencies and take advantage of the efficiencies and resources DOE is offering through the program, including the single environmental review document, as a basis for their own decision-making. 

Transparent Transmission Permitting: The CITAP Program will require a comprehensive public participation plan that helps project developers identify community impacts from proposed lines at the outset of the project and encourages early engagement by potential applicants with communities and Tribes. The CITAP Program will allow potential applicants and agencies to coordinate via an online portal, which will allow project developers to directly upload relevant information and necessary documentation and will offer a one-stop-shop for their federal permitting communications. The online portal will also allow participating Federal agencies to view and provide input during the initial document collection process and during Federal environmental reviews. 

Western Transmission Project

DOE also announced the selection of one additional conditional project from the first round of capacity contract applications through the Transmission Facilitation Program (TFP)

DOE said the Southwest Intertie Project (SWIP-North) will bolster resource adequacy in the West by bringing wind energy from Idaho to Southern Nevada and to customers in California, and providing a pathway for solar resources to meet evolving reliability needs in the Pacific Northwest.

With construction anticipated to start in 2025, the proposed, 285-mile line will bring more than 2,000 MW of transmission capacity to the region.

The SWIP-North line will also help increase grid resilience by providing an alternate route to deliver power supplies during wildfires or other system disruptions.

This project will also upgrade a key substation in Nevada, unlocking an additional 1,000 MW of capacity along the existing One Nevada Line, a major transmission corridor in Southern Nevada. 

The National Transmission Needs Study, released in October 2023, estimates that by 2035 there will be a need for 3.3 gigawatts of new transfer capacity between the Mountain and Northwest regions to unlock the power sector emissions savings enabled by the Investing in America agenda. The SWIP-North project contributes 58% of this interregional transmission need. 

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