On March 25, 2016, the United States Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, announced that the Department of Energy (“DOE”) will participate in the development of the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Project (“Clean Line”). As a result, the Clean Line project will be the first transmission project that DOE helps develop directly, pursuant to the authority delegated to DOE in Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (“EPAct 2005”).

Clean Line was originally proposed as a qualifying project under Section 1222 of EPAct 2005 in July 2010. According to DOE, the $2.5 billion Clean Line is intended to tap abundant, low-cost wind generation resources in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandle regions to deliver up to 4,000 megawatts of wind power to the mid-South and Southeast United States via a 705-mile direct current transmission line. DOE has also noted that Clean Line is intended to address infrastructure challenges outlined in DOE’s 2015 Quadrennial Energy Review (“QER”), which focused on energy transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure (see January 17, 2014, edition of the WER). Notably, the QER found that “new long-distance transmission capacity like Clean Line has the potential to enable lower-carbon electricity, enhance system reliability and operate at a reasonable cost to consumers.”

Before DOE could determine that it would participate in developing Clean Line, it conducted a review process described in Section 1222 of the EPAct 2005 and pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Among other considerations, the process included a review of the environmental impacts of the Clean Line and weighed public comments on both environmental and non-environmental issues before determining whether the transmission project was feasible and in the public interest. As noted by DOE, the process included fifteen public meetings and provided multiple opportunities for the public to submit written comments.

In the announcement, DOE stated that its review process went well beyond the provisions established by Congress in Section 1222 of EPAct 2005 in order to build in protections for landowners and local communities affected by the Clean Line. According to DOE, a non-exhaustive list of such protections includes: a requirement that eminent domain be used only as a last resort; a requirement that Clean Line contribute two percent of project revenues to offset the cost of federal hydropower infrastructure improvements; and protections to ensure that no liability will fall on ratepayers if the project fails.