Department of Energy Announces Rule Designed to Expedite Transmission Permitting

Funding for Additional Grid Capacity Also Announced

Department of Energy Announces Rule Designed to Expedite Transmission Permitting

Funding for Additional Grid Capacity Also Announced

In what’s being touted as a part of the federal government’s continued commitment to bolster the U.S. power grid, the Biden-Harris Administration has announced a final transmission permitting reform rule and a new commitment for up to $331 million aimed at adding more than 2,000 megawatts (MW) of additional grid capacity throughout the Western United States.

The administration, through the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a final rule to establish the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits (CITAP) Program, which, according to an article on the DOE’s website, “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 article continued.

The new rule expedites the siting, permitting, and construction of electric transmission infrastructure in the United States.

Resources provided by the CITAP Program include:

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. DOE will lead an interagency pre-application process designed 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.

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, with the goal of reducing duplication of work. State siting authorities may participate in the CITAP Program alongside federal agencies and take advantage of the resources DOE is offering through the program.

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. Through this online portal, participating federal agencies can also view and provide input during the initial document collection process and during federal environmental reviews.

“The Permitting Council is excited to have CITAP as a partner as we work together to bring clarity, transparency, and efficiency to the federal permitting process for crucial transmission projects,” said Permitting Council Executive Director, Eric Beightel. “The ambitious clean energy goals of the Biden-Harris administration cannot be achieved without the transmission infrastructure needed to deliver renewable energy to consumers. This rule is a significant step forward in bringing coordination and accountability into the permitting review of these vital projects, and a perfect complement to our FAST-41 permitting assistant program, enabling us to deliver clean and affordable energy to homes across the nation.”

The newly announced $331-million funding commitment will add grid capacity equivalent to powering 2.5 million homes and create more than 300 new, high quality and union construction jobs, DOE said. The funding comes courtesy of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and will support a new transmission line from Idaho to Nevada that will be built with union labor.

“…We are acting with the urgency the American people deserve to realize a historic rework of the permitting process that slashes times for new transmission lines, puts more Americans to work and meets the energy needs of today and the future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm.

“In order to reach our clean energy and climate goals, we’ve got to build out transmission as fast as possible to get clean power from where it’s produced to where it’s needed,” added John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for International Climate Policy. “As today’s announcements demonstrate, the Biden-Harris administration is committed to using every tool at our disposal to accelerate progress on transmission permitting and financing and build a clean energy future.”

A downed power pole laying over a wet roadway.
Experts say that undergrounding existing utilities to protect them from severe weather, building additional transmission and distribution infrastructure, and smart planning are just some of the improvements necessary to future-proof America’s power infrastructure.

A Grid on the Brink

Federal, state, and even local government agencies are racing to solve the country’s current energy problems and prepare for those on the horizon.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the United States’ energy infrastructure a C- in its most recent Infrastructure Report Card.

“…Distribution infrastructure struggles with reliability, with 92% of all outages occurring along these segments,” the ASCE wrote. “In the coming years, additional transmission and distribution infrastructure, smart planning, and improved reliability are needed to accommodate the changing energy landscape, as delivery becomes distributed, and renewables grow.”

The U.S., like the rest of the world, needs to generate more power, and it needs to do it more efficiently.

In the International Energy Agency’s recently released 2024 Electricity Report, which analyzes and forecasts the world’s electricity needs through 2026, the organization said that power generation is currently the largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the world, but it is also the sector leading the transition to net zero emissions through the rapid expansion of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

“Ensuring consumers have secure and affordable access to electricity while also reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is one of the core challenges of the energy transition,” the IEA wrote.

Per the IEA’s report, global electricity demand rose moderately in 2023 but is set to grow faster through 2026 as electricity consumption from data centers, artificial intelligence (AI), and the cryptocurrency sector is projected to double by then.

“After globally consuming an estimated 460 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2022, data centres’ total electricity consumption could reach more than 1,000 TWh in 2026,” the IEA added. “This demand is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of Japan. Updated regulations and technological improvements, including on efficiency, will be crucial to moderate the surge in energy consumption from data centres.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the components of the U.S. power grid?

The U.S. power grid is a complex network of electricity production, transmission, and distribution systems that spans the entire country. It consists of three major interconnections: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas (ERCOT) Interconnection. These systems work together to deliver electricity from producers to consumers across states and regions.

How is the power grid managed?

The U.S. power grid is managed by various organizations, including regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs). These entities coordinate, control, and monitor the grid's operation to ensure a stable and continuous supply of electricity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversees the rules and regulations that these organizations must follow.

What are the main sources of power in the U.S. power grid?

The U.S. power grid utilizes a diverse mix of energy sources to generate electricity. These include fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil; nuclear power; and renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. The mix can vary greatly depending on the region and its available resources.

How does the power grid handle peak demand?

To handle peak demand periods, grid operators use a combination of demand-response programs, where consumers are incentivized to reduce their usage during peak times, and peaking power plants that can be quickly ramped up to provide additional power. Advanced technologies such as grid energy storage and smart grid capabilities also play crucial roles in managing load and enhancing the grid's responsiveness.

What are smart grids?

Smart grids are an evolution of the traditional power grid, incorporating advanced technologies and communication systems to enhance the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of electricity services. They include features like automated control systems, real-time energy management, and integrated renewable energy sources. Smart grids can predict and respond to changes in electricity demand and supply more dynamically and efficiently.

What challenges does the U.S. power grid face?

The U.S. power grid faces several challenges, including aging infrastructure, cyber threats, and the need for modernization to integrate more renewable energy sources. Additionally, extreme weather events driven by climate change pose significant risks to the grid's stability and reliability.

How is the power grid being modernized?

Modernization efforts for the U.S. power grid include upgrading old infrastructure, incorporating more renewable energy sources, enhancing grid security against physical and cyber threats, and implementing smart grid technologies. These initiatives aim to improve the grid's resilience, reduce carbon emissions, and accommodate future energy needs more effectively.