To ensure the United States rapidly builds out a coherent national grid network—designed to maximize efficiency and clean energy—any improved planning processes must be backed by authority to ensure that planned transmission lines are able to obtain the necessary authorizations and certifications to actually be built.
Regulatory authorization to construct new transmission lines under current practice requires numerous state and local approvals that are not coordinated and do not fully recognize larger system-wide state and even national benefits in weighing decisions. Existing practices rely on state authorities and require multiple state actions to build a single multistate transmission line. Conflicts in a single state, or even with one opponent in a single state, can create a roadblock for an entire multistate project. Moreover, state certification proceedings may require a public interest determination that is focused solely on the best interests of the particular state—with no provisions for weighing local concerns in the context of broader national public interests that may be very substantial.
A more effective strategy for building a national clean-energy smart grid would respect state and local interests in ensuring appropriate local-scale implementation while also including specific examination about how to ensure that national purposes are also met to ensure the development of a well-functioning clean-energy grid. Providing a more centralized decision-making process with more closely coordinated exercise of regulatory authority and a mechanism for the consideration of broader public interests will be important to ensure that thoughtful plans are implemented.
This stronger siting authority should be exercised only in those projects that are central to advancing the national public interest in clean-energy deployment and broader power grid system reliability. Further, such a centralized decision-making process will produce good results only if the participation of state and local stakeholders is serious and robust, allowing an authentic voice in shaping the plan and its implementation.
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