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July 05, 2013
White House orders work on energy corridors

A preapplication process intended to minimize uncertainties for onshore electric transmission projects is among the more significant elements of a detailed memorandum from President Obama.  Called Transforming our Nation's Electric Grid Through Improved Siting, Permitting, and Review, the memo’s general objective is to provide direction to federal agencies on modernizing and expanding the electric power transmission grid. 

Agencies are also told to find ways to designate environmentally protective energy right-of-way corridors on federal lands while involving states, local communities, and tribes in the process to ensure that those corridors can be expeditiously connected over nonfederal lands.

Western states

Removing redundancy and bureaucratic delays to expedite federal approval of a wide range of infrastructure projects, including electricity transmission, was addressed by the president in a March 2012 Executive Order (E.O. 13604).  Among other actions, E.O. 13604 established the Steering Committee on Federal Infrastructure Permitting and Review Process Improvement;the steering committee comprises representatives of all federal agencies that oversee federally sponsored infrastructure projects

The current memo builds upon E.O. 13604 by focusing on the need for energy corridors.  Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Interior have designated energy corridors in the 11 contiguous Western states.  However, no corridors have been designated outside the Western states.  A total of nine different federal departments have a hand in the siting, permitting, and review of transmission lines.

Principles and instructions

The memo includes the following principles for development of energy corridors and implementing instructions for federal agencies:

  • Focus on facilitating renewable energy resources and improving grid resiliency.
  • Ensure that energy corridors address the need for upgraded and new electric transmission and distribution facilities to improve reliability, relieve congestion, and enhance the capability of the national grid to deliver electricity. 
  • Develop federal interagency mitigation plans at the landscape or watershed scale, which identify priority areas for compensatory mitigation; tools such as mitigation banks and in lieu fee programs should be utilized where appropriate.
  • Ensure that additions, revisions, and deletions can be applied to the current Western energy corridors.
  • Expedite applications from parties whose projects are sited primarily within the designated energy corridors in the Western states and who have committed to implement the necessary mitigation activities.
  • For non-Western states, identify potential energy corridors and expedite the siting, permitting, and review of electric transmission projects on federal lands in those states.  By September 2014, the lead federal agencies are directed to update the Steering Committee with recommendations regarding designating energy corridors in these states.

Preapplication process

Specifically regarding expediting projects, the memo directs agencies to develop an integrated, interagency preapplication process for significant onshore electric transmission projects requiring federal approval.

The memo states:

“The process shall be designed to: promote predictability in the federal siting, permitting, and review processes; encourage early engagement, coordination, and collaboration of federal, state, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and the public; increase the use of integrated project planning early in the siting, permitting, and review processes; facilitate early identification of issues that could diminish the likelihood that projects will ultimately be permitted; promote early planning for integrated and strategic mitigation plans; expedite siting, permitting, and review processes through a mutual understanding of the needs of all affected federal agencies and state, local, and tribal governments; and improve environmental and cultural outcomes.”

Click here for the president’s energy corridors memo.

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