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May 04, 2023

Senator King Discusses Urgency of Interconnection Fix and Transmission Expansion with FERC Chairman

King says clogged project interconnection queue “defeats whole purpose” of permitting reform

Watch or download Senator King’s questioning HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Senator Angus King today emphasized the importance of new technologies and regulatory reform to the clean energy future. In a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, King questioned Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Willie Phillips on his view of grid enhancing technologies (GETs) and interconnection reforms.

King began by emphasizing role that GETs—which allow a larger amount of power to flow through the transmission grid with relatively fewer environmental impacts and costs—will play in expanding the nation’s transmission grid. Research from top universities and the Department of Energy’s national labs indicates the nation may need to triple its transmission capacity to meet clean energy goals.

“Mr. Chairman, when we're talking about rebuilding the grid, I hope that the FERC will encourage reconductoring and technological smart grid enhancements before having to go to new rights of way. And I know that's going to be necessary, but it seems to me that the structures should be ‘let's start with the cheaper stuff first before we go to the total expansion.’ Is that a sensible way to proceed?” Senator King asked FERC Chairman Willie Phillips.   

“Absolutely, yes, sir. I believe that grid enhancing technologies like advanced reconductoring, dynamic line ratings, ambient adjusted line rating, these are things that are essential to planning for our future,” agreed Chairman Phillips.  

Senator King followed up on the Commission’s authority, asking, “Is there a way that you can enforce that? In other words, if an applicant comes forward with a proposal for a new right away, you can say, ‘No. Wait a minute. Have you done these other less expensive and less intrusive steps first?’”

“We're considering proposals just like the one you mentioned, Senator, in our regional transmission planning proceeding. I absolutely agree. This is something that we should discuss and I'm open to it,” Chairman Phillips replied.

King then discussed the importance of interconnection queue reform with Chairman Phillips. Interconnection queues—the lines in which new power generating projects wait for permission to attach to the grid—have ballooned in recent years, reaching over 2,000 gigawatts at the end of 2022. 95% of projects in the queue are renewable and storage projects, which are essential to the transition to a carbon-free electricity sector.

Acknowledging the important role of grid and market operators, known as Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs), Senator King said, “I want to move to a question that really isn't strictly a FERC question, but it's certainly involved in this area, and that is the interconnection queue at the RTOs. I may be the only senator ever stuck in an RTO queue for a generating plant, although at the time it was a matter of months. Now we're talking about years. In fact, I think last year the estimate was five years. We're all talking about, Mr. Chairman, we're talking about permitting reform and speeding things up. This is a serious bottleneck. How do we address it? To any of you, but I'll start with you, Mr. Chairman.”

Chairman Phillips responded, “Thank you, Senator. There are several different proposals that we have in our interconnection queue reform. NOPR. What we have now is a system where it's a serial approach where you get first come, first served. What we propose is that we move to a clustered approach where it's first ready, first served. This has been used in other parts of the country. I think there's a real potential that this can help unlock some of the bottleneck that we've seen.”

Senator King again ensured FERC had the necessary tools at its disposal, asking, “Do you have authority to impose this kind of system or is this just a ‘mother, may I?’ to the RTOs?”

After Chairman Phillips responded affirmatively, Senator King then emphasized that interconnect queue fixes will be necessary to achieve the goals of permitting reforming.

“I hope that that's something that will be acknowledged and taken seriously, because, again, we can work very hard here on permitting reform to shorten the term. But, if you then have to tack on five years at the end because of this inter connection issue, that defeats the whole purpose. We're in a race against time here, and that's incredibly important,” Senator King concluded.

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator King has repeatedly emphasized the importance of permitting reform to unlocking the promise of a clean energy future. In addition to the recent discussion with FERC, he has stressed the importance of streamlining and speeding project timelines while maintaining environmental standards to the Secretaries of Energy and Interior.


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