On October 11, 2011, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy (“DOE”) will not delegate its authority to establish national electric transmission corridors to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or the “Commission”).  DOE has the power under section 216 of the Federal Power Act to study and designate National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (“NIETCs”), and FERC has the authority to approve a siting permit for a transmission project in a NIETC when a state has failed to act on siting application within one year.  However, FERC has not yet used its backstop authority, and the agency’s power has been limited by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. 

Recently, the DOE was considering whether to delegate its section 216 authority to FERC in an effort to expedite transmission projects.  This past July and August, a proposal to delegate authority to FERC was presented to a stakeholder group in order to provide comments to Secretary Chu.  The proposal was intended to allow for a more “efficient, directed process” for siting interstate transmission projects.  Many state public utility commissions and other parties filed comments, some expressing concern over the proposed delegation of authority to FERC.  Ultimately, Secretary Chu declined to delegate its authority, however, Secretary Chu and FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced that their two agencies will begin work on the following projects:

  1.  Transmission congestion studies mandated by Congress;
  2. Supplements to those congestion studies based on, among other things, the  transmission plans prepared pursuant to Orders 890 and 1000; and
  3. The environmental analyses for any proposed NIETCs.

 A copy of the joint DOE and FERC announcement is available here.

A copy of the FERC Staff Preliminary and Conceptual Transmission Siting Proposal is available here.