Late last month, FERC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking.  Its intent is to “remedy deficiencies in the Commission’s existing regional transmission planning and cost allocation requirements.”  In short, it’s time for a 21st Century grid that actually accommodates changes in how electricity is being generated.

I’m not sure I can improve much on FERC’s own summary of the NOPR:

the proposal would require public utility transmission providers to (1) conduct long-term regional transmission planning on a sufficiently forward-looking basis to meet transmission needs driven by changes in the resource mix and demand; (2) more fully consider dynamic line ratings and advanced power flow control devices in regional transmission planning processes; (3) seek the agreement of relevant state entities within the transmission planning region regarding the cost allocation method or methods that will apply to transmission facilities selected in the regional transmission plan for purposes of cost allocation through long-term regional transmission planning; (4) adopt enhanced transparency requirements for local transmission planning processes and improve coordination between regional and local transmission planning with the aim of identifying potential opportunities to “right-size” replacement transmission facilities; and (5) revise their existing interregional transmission coordination procedures to reflect the long-term regional transmission planning reforms proposed in this NOPR.

Getting all this done will be a huge effort.  With that in mind, I would emphasize three aspects of the notice:

  • First, and most importantly, the vote in favor of the NOPR was 4-1. Having buy-in from one of the GOP commissioners may be critical to the long-term success of FERC transmission reform
  • The proposal would reinstate a federal right of first refusal for existing transmission companies, so long as there is joint ownership. This proposal speaks to the continuing influence of existing utilities and reflects FERC’s judgment that there have to be some carrots for utilities if the proposal is going to go anywhere.
  • The proposal does not address delays that renewable projects face in interconnecting to the grid. If I were cynical, I might repeat my prior comment here.

This is not a perfect proposal, but it’s clearly a necessary move in the right direction.  The question remains whether we’ll be able to reform the grid sufficiently quickly to make the transition to a zero-emitting all-electric economy at the pace science is telling us we must do to avoid the worst implications of a changing climate.

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