National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor
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A National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC) corridor is a geographic region designated by the United States Department of Energy where electricity transmission limitations are adversely affecting American citizens. In 2005 the United States Congress granted the Department of Energy the authority to create these regions in an effort to speed the creation of more transmission capacity. Should state and local governments fail to issue permits allowing construction of new transmission, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the authority to issue a federal permit empowering a project director to exercise the right of eminent domain to purchase property needed to complete the project.
In the United States, electricity generation is growing 4 times faster than transmission, and energy sources that would make the U.S. more energy independent cannot be built because there is no transmission capacity to carry the power to consumers. Because United States energy independence is a national priority, this problem has attracted considerable federal attention.
Historically, local governments have exercised authority over the electricity grid and have little incentive to take action that would benefit other states, but not their own. States with cheap electricity have a disincentive to make interstate commerce in electricity easier, since other states will be able to compete for local energy and drive up rates. Further, vocal local constituencies can block or slow permitting by pointing to visual impact, environmental, and perceived health concerns.
Large transmission upgrades require coordination of multiple states, a multitude of interlocking permits, and a significant portion of the 500 companies that own the grid. From a policy perspective, the control of the grid is balkanized, and the former Energy secretary Bill Richardson refers to it as a "third world grid". To address to the U.S. national security interest in significantly growing transmission capacity, the 2005 energy act gave the Department of Energy the authority to approve transmission if states refuse to act. However, soon after using its power to designate two national corridors, 14 senators signed a letter stating the DOE was being too aggressive
Corridor designations of 2007
In 2007, the DOE designated two corridors, the Mid-Atlantic Area national corridor, and the Southwest Area corridor. Using a source-and-sink approach, the DOE determined areas of significant transmission network congestion and electricity demand (sink), then examined likely areas of nearby generation (source). The possible paths between these sources and sinks defined the highest priority regions where transmission lines need to be built. In designating an NIETC corridor, the DOE does not specify preferred routes for projects, just the general region where such projects are eligible for federal permits. Further, DOE did not exclude federal or state lands from the regions since right of eminent domain by a FERC permit would not apply to them. Although Congress did not specify that national corridors expire, the Secretary of Energy set a limit of 12 years for the Southwest and Mid-Atlantic corridors, subject to revision at any time after giving notice and opportunity for public comment.
Approval of routes for specific projects will continue to be the responsibility of state authorities. However, FERC may issue a permit if a proposed project will significantly reduce a transmission constraint in the national corridor. According to the DOE, NIETC permit process should not disrupt existing activities of state authorities, and will investigate allegations that an applicant has acted in bad faith in state proceedings.
When a specific route is chosen for a project, FERC will conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to groundbreaking. The DOE did not conduct an EIS for either NIETC region, arguing that the designation does not authorize any specific projects or routes.
- National Electric Transmission Congestion Report and Final National Corridor Designations: Frequently Asked Questions (pdf). United States Department of Energy. 2007-10-02. Retrieved 2008-12-14. Lay summary.
- [Matthew] (2008-08-27). Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits. New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 2008-12-12.