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Distributed Energy Resources

DOE Proposes Streamlined NEPA Review for Transmission, Solar, and Storage Projects

The Department of Energy on Nov. 16 published a notice of proposed rulemaking and request for comment to amend its implementing procedures governing compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act that would impact certain transmission, solar, and energy storage projects.

DOE is accepting comments on this notice of proposed rulemaking through January 2, 2024.

In November 2022, DOE issued a request for information to help inform any potential updates for new or revised categorical exclusions to NEPA reviews that are aligned with DOE programs and initiatives for clean energy and electricity transmission projects.

A categorical exclusion is a class of actions that a federal agency has determined do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required.

Based on the information submitted in response to the RFI, DOE is seeking comments on the proposed rulemaking.

The proposed changes “would add a categorical exclusion for certain energy storage systems and revise categorical exclusions for upgrading and rebuilding transmission lines and for solar photovoltaic systems, as well as make conforming changes to related sections of DOE's NEPA regulations,” DOE said.

Among other things, the proposed changes would remove the mileage limitation for categorical exclusions for upgrading and rebuilding existing power lines (currently 20 miles), add options for relocating within an existing right of way or within otherwise previously disturbed or developed lands, and add new conditions.

The DOE is also proposing to establish new categorical exclusions for the construction, operation, upgrade, or decommissioning of an electrochemical battery or flywheel energy storage system within a previously disturbed or developed area or within a small area contiguous to a previously disturbed or developed area.

The DOE is also proposing to remove the acreage limitation (currently 10 acres) for the development of solar photovoltaic system proposed projects and to change the current categorical exclusion term of “removal” to “decommission” (which can allow for recycling or other actions).