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by Jeff St. John
December 01, 2020

Cost-effectively decarbonizing the U.S. electric grid means building a lot more transmission capacity, from interregional high-voltage corridors to carry far-off wind and solar resources to population centers, to transmission networks to enable the country’s massive offshore wind power potential. 

But U.S. transmission build-out has lagged behind this need, energy experts agree. High-profile independent transmission developments have faltered under the complexities of building massive capital projects across multiple jurisdictions, each capable of halting decade-long development processes through legal or regulatory challenges. 

Similar divisions have bogged down the vast majority of new transmission development that relies on regulations to enlist multiple utilities and states in agreeing to share the costs and benefits of shared projects. The few exceptions to this rule, such as the transmission build-out enabled by Texas grid operator ERCOT’s CREZ policy and Midwest grid operator MISO’s MVP policy effort, underscore how much time and effort are required to align transmission build-outs within the footprint of a single independent system operator or regional transmission organization, let alone projects that cross these regional boundaries. 

As the federal agency responsible for interstate transmission policy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could play a vital role in unblocking these bottlenecks, according to former FERC commissioners and energy stakeholders. And unlike many key clean energy policies, these transmission policy efforts could cross partisan boundaries by driving economic development for wind and solar-rich states under Republican control as well as for clean energy interests supported by Democrats. 

This offers the incoming Biden administration a valuable opportunity to direct FERC’s transmission policy developments in ways that can support its clean energy and decarbonization ambitions. Here’s an overview of what’s on the table.