Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick on Thursday laid out a number of short and long-term goals he has for the commission to tackle transmission policy, and said regulators will outline a clearer path forward on those issues "in the near future."
Transmission planning and cost allocation are two of the larger-scale keys to building out the transmission necessary to bring the power grid to 100% carbon-free power under President Joe Biden's 2035 timeline, according to Glick. The FERC chair wants to see the commission take a new approach to interregional transmission planning, and broaden how benefits are calculated when allocating costs for these projects, he said during the Clean Power 2021 virtual summit.
Lower hanging fruit includes maximizing the efficiency of current U.S. transmission, he said, given the years-long process of building out new lines. "I'm hoping from FERC's perspective that we're ... going to be able to outline a path forward on many of these transmission-related issues in the near future," he said. "Certainly by the end of the summer."
There is consensus that a large amount of new transmission capacity will be needed in order for the U.S. to decarbonize the power system through more wind and solar resources, and FERC is considered key to driving that buildout, given the commission's authority over electric transmission siting and planning.
Glick on Thursday said cost allocation and improved interregional planning processes are two of the bigger lifts he hopes to see the commission tackle.
Overloaded interconnection queues have required large transmission upgrades that, in some cases, can be charged to a single developer, despite benefits spreading across projects that interconnect to that system, a January report from Americans for a Clean Energy Grid found. Tenaska last month filed a complaint with FERC, alleging that the Southwest Power Pool was overcharging the developer $66 million for a system upgrade needed because of overloaded capacity, despite the fact that those bottlenecks existed before Tenaska's wind project was put into operation.
Glick said FERC has been looking "too narrowly" at the benefits of transmission, and is hoping the commission can reassess those moving forward.
"How do we figure out and assess who's really benefiting when we build out a transmission line?" he said. "It's not just people getting access to increased ... power from a particular line, it's the benefits associated with reduced emissions, it's the benefits associated with increased reliability. It's the benefits associated with having access to cheaper power. And those are the kinds of issues I think we certainly need to take a look at on a going forward basis with regard to transmission."
Glick has long vowed that FERC would prioritize transmission under his leadership, and the commission has begun examining how to make the current system more efficient. In November the commission opened a proceeding to improve transmission line ratings, or the maximum amount of power a line can conduct safely, considered a "tool in limbo" by grid modernization advocates who say such changes could clear congested renewables interconnection queues. Glick said such measures can provide good short-term progress as larger-scale transmission additions are built.
"We recognize it takes a long time for transmission to be built," he said. "Even if we had the greatest planning processes, even if we had the best cost allocation approach, and even if we had a much better approach to siting at the state level, for instance, it's still gonna take a number of years before this new transmission is built, so we need to figure out a way to better use our existing transmission capacity."
Commissioner Neil Chatterjee has also indicated that he would like to see FERC tackle transmission reform, though his term ends June 30, and the Biden administration has yet to put forward a new nominee. Commissioner Allison Clements has also said she'd like to see transmission reform taken on, while Commissioner Mark Christie has expressed concerns about the potential costs of a mass transmission buildout.