WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept 30, 2009) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told energy industry officials today that the federal government’s past electric transmission policy has been as fragmented and disjointed as the nation’s outdated power grid and that one of President Obama’s top energy priorities is to speed the development of a 21st Century network to move American energy more cleanly, efficiently and safely around the nation.
“The President’s economic recovery plan makes an unprecedented $11 billion federal investment in building a better and smarter electric grid,” Salazar said in keynote remarks for a Transmission Policy Summit at the National Press Club. “The Administration is using a Cabinet-level working group to develop a unified, forward-looking strategy for siting, cost allocation, and coordinating the permitting for proposed transmission projects. And Interior is fast-tracking a number of projects that are environmentally sound.”
“For too long, our nation’s electric transmission policy has been disjointed, fragmented, and – frankly – a low priority across a federal agencies,” Salazar said. “It can take years to navigate the bureaucracy and permits needed for a multi-state transmission project. The process often involves several state agencies, local regulators, and federal land management agencies – each with the power to block a particular project.”
Salazar called the nation’s current electric transmission grid extraordinarily inefficient, geographically fragmented and vulnerable to cyber attack, brownouts, and other disruptions. “And it simply isn’t designed to move large loads from areas with high renewable energy potential – such as the upper Great Plains or the southwest – to the areas of highest demand,” Salazar said.
The Cabinet group, which includes Interior, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and others, is developing a coordinated federal permitting process that can review and approve permit applications that cross federal agency jurisdictions and mapping out electric corridors that meet the needs of the clean energy economy.
“We must connect the solar power of the southwestern deserts and the wind of the High Plains to major metropolitan areas,” Salazar said. “At Interior, we are mapping these corridors in collaboration with other federal agencies, tribal nations, and stakeholders.”
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has identified and designated more than 5,000 miles of energy transport corridors on public lands in the West, as required by Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. “We’re continuing to work with stakeholders to identify the best places on the landscape for transmission facilities, especially as renewable energy generation comes on line,” Salazar said. In particular, Interior works with the Western Governors’ Association’s Western Renewable Energy Zone (WREZ) effort, a regional transmission planning and coordination effort that is helping align federal, state, and local interests.
The Department also is improving coordination on transmission with tribal nations, whose lands have some of the highest renewable and conventional resource potential in the country. Yet many tribes had been left out of the nation’s energy infrastructure. “We are working with tribes – on a nation to nation basis – to identify opportunities to site transmission projects where they could most benefit tribal communities,” Salazar said.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently processing 30 applications for major transmission rights-of-way on public lands Interior oversees. Seven of these are “fast track” projects in Idaho, California, and Nevada that will clear the permitting process before the end of next year, consistent with all necessary environmental reviews. The projects should qualify for the incentives in the economic recovery act and put people to work as soon as possible. The major projects range from 115kv to 500kv and stretch across the West. “Especially now, with millions of Americans out of work, we have to get moving on the transmission proposals that can get online the quickest,” Salazar said.
Salazar, the Obama Administration’s strongest advocate for the appropriate development of renewable energy on public lands, has underscored the need for new transmission infrastructure to deliver this clean energy to consumers. Under his leadership, Interior, which manages one-fifth of the lands in the United States and 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, has accelerated approvals of environmentally responsible renewable energy projects onshore and offshore.
The full text of the Secretary’s remarks are online at http://www.doi.gov/secretary/speeches/093009_speech.html