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Department of Energy, Clean Line Partnership Represents a Win for Energy Infrastructure

It is no secret that our nation’s energy infrastructure is outdated and in need of significant investment and modernization. For example, as the mix of electricity generation resources evolves to include an abundance of gas as well as increasingly cost-competitive renewable generation, constructing the infrastructure to support the transmission and distribution of these resources will be essential to enabling clean, reliable, and affordable electricity.

Despite the clear need for new infrastructure, challenges related to siting, funding, and cost-allocation can slow or prevent its development. Electric transmission projects that cross state lines pose a particular challenge, as there is not currently a viable federal backstop siting authority, and resolutions are difficult to achieve if a state along a proposed line either can’t (for example, if restrictions in existing statutes limit its ability to review a line passing through but not serving customers) or won’t provide approval to lines that could benefit the system at large. The Bipartisan Policy Center has long argued that there is a role for the federal government in ensuring the development of interstate infrastructure with broad regional or national benefits.

For this reason, BPC was pleased to see the recent announcement by DOE on March 25 that it would participate in the development of the Plains & Eastern Clean Line Project, a 700-mile long high-voltage direct current line that would deliver wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to utilities and customers in the mid-south and southeastern United States. This public-private partnership is possible as a result of Section 1222 of the bipartisan Energy Policy Act of 2005, which permits the secretary of energy, acting through the Western or Southwestern Power Authorities, to participate in the development of electric transmission projects.

BPC Senior Fellows Sens. Pete Domenici and Byron Dorgan, former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman and member, respectively, submitted a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz during the review process, supporting DOE’s use of Section 1222, noting that “Section 1222 provides an opportunity for DOE to play a leadership role in building much-needed energy infrastructure, with the risk borne by the private sector, rather than by ratepayers or taxpayers. We believe that this measure provides an important opportunity to ensure development of critical projects that enhance the reliability and security of our nation’s electric grid.”

BPC applauds Moniz’s willingness to engage this never-used provision to ensure the development of valuable new transmission infrastructure. While the availability of Section 1222 does not undermine the need for reform of federal backstop authority for electric transmission siting, or the review of state siting statues and multistate siting processes more generally, this action provides an example of an innovative public-private partnership that will be instructive as a model going forward.

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