On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (“Energy Committee”) released a joint staff draft of Chairman Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) energy bill that would address concerns by states on cost allocation as well as give the Department of the Interior authority to site new transmission lines on federal lands.

On April 29, members of the Energy Committee discussed Chairman Bingaman’s revised “discussion draft” transmission siting legislation (see May 1, 2009 edition of the WER). On Monday, governors from ten Northeastern states sent a letter to House and Senate leaders opposing the proposal to build high capacity transmission lines to bring wind power from the Midwest to the East and distribute the cost of the transmission lines to all customers. The Governors stated that such an approach would unfairly favor wind resources in the Midwest and ignore the potential for massive wind generation off the Atlantic shore.

Unlike the previous draft, the new version would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission) to give more deference to states on the issue of cost allocation. The bill would require FERC to adopt rules regarding cost allocation of high capacity interstate transmission lines. It also would require FERC to coordinate development of comprehensive transmission plans for the Eastern and Western Interconnections. However, the new language gives existing regional planning authorities more direct roles by requiring that they develop regional plans and submit them to FERC instead of FERC initiating the planning.

The bill also would make the Department of the Interior the lead agency for siting new “high priority” transmission lines on federal lands. The previous draft of the bill designated FERC as the lead agency. Under the revised bill, the Secretary of the Interior will have 60 days to comment on a project’s pre-application and one year to complete environmental reviews. FERC will still retain backstop authority to certify construction of such high-priority lines.

The revised joint staff draft is available at: http://energy.senate.gov/public/_files/END09657_xml.pdf.