Hydropower Transmission Siting and Interconnection (8)
The siting of an hydroelectric facility will require the developer to consider issues related to associated transmission lines and interconnection of the generation facility to the electrical grid.
Pursuant to the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has jurisdiction over interconnection of wholesale generators that need to connect their generation facilities to a transmission system. FERC has authority over “public utilities,” which under 16 USC 824a(e) includes any person who owns or operates facilities subject to jurisdiction of FERC. This also includes any person who owns or operates a facility for the transmission of electric energy in interstate commerce and to the sale of electric energy at wholesale in interstate commerce. Interstate commerce has been interpreted broadly to include when the transmission system is interconnected and capable of transmitting electric energy across the state boundary, even if the contracting parties and the electrical pathway between them are in one state. See Florida Power & Light Company, 29 FERC, ¶ 61, 140 at 61, 291-92 (1984). To obviate the delays and lack of standardization that once discouraged merchant generators from entering the market place and thereby provided an unfair advantage to utilities that owned both transmission and generation facilities, FERC established a uniform set of procedures and agreements to govern the process of interconnecting to the grid.
A FERC hydropower license establishes access to federal lands for transmission lines sited within the FERC license boundary. However, the FERC license is subject to conditions set forth by the federal land management agency/agencies charged with the administration of federal lands which may be impacted by the proposed project. Federal land management agencies may also require the developer to obtain a right-of-way or special use authorization if transmission lines will cross over federal lands administered by those agencies. The conditions of the right-of-way or special use authorization may be similar to the conditions contained within the FERC license, but provide the land management agency with some limited, independent jurisdictional authority over the operation of the hydropower project as it pertains to the project’s potential to impact agency lands. For transmission lines located outside of the FERC license boundary, the developer will need to obtain access to federal lands through the relevant land management agency’s rights-of-way application process. These rights-of-way will also contain any mandatory terms and conditions the agency deems necessary for the protection of federal land resources.
If proposed transmission lines will cross private land, the developer must obtain a property right to use the land, which may be accomplished by purchasing the land or negotiating a lease with the private landowner. Alternatively, a FERC hydropower license may allow a developer to obtain private land within the FERC project boundary through the process of eminent domain.
If proposed transmission lines will cross state lands, the developer must obtain state land access from the appropriate state land manager and may be required to obtain authorization for interconnection to the grid from the appropriate state agency. For transmission lines located outside of the FERC license boundary, the state may also require the developer to obtain any necessary rights-of-way, encroachment permits, and/or a Certificate of Public Good, a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, or similar approval from the state utility regulatory authority. These permits ensure public and onsite safety; grid connection, accountability and transparency.”
Transmission Siting and Interconnection Process
8.1 to 8.2 – Will the Transmission Facility Be within the Project Boundary of a FERC Licensed Project?
FERC hydropower licenses establish a project boundary encompassing a “complete unit of development” which includes all transmission lines and other structures located within the FERC license boundary. (FPA section 3(11)). FERC licenses establish access to federal lands for siting transmission lines. In addition, if the developer is unable to obtain the requisite land access to private lands through negotiation, FERC licenses confer the power of eminent domain which would, as a less desirable alternative, permit a developer to obtain private land required for siting transmission lines. However, developers will need to obtain state land access and interconnection to the grid as described in 8.3 to 8.13 (below).
8.3 to 8.6 – Will the Facility Be Owned or Operated by a Public Utility and Transmit Electric Energy in Interstate Commerce? Is the Facility To Generate over 20 MW?
A “public utility” is defined by 16 U.S.C. 824(e) as “any person who owns or operates facilities subject to the jurisdiction of the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] under this subchapter…” Public utilities that are subject to the jurisdiction of FERC are those that transmit electric energy in interstate commerce or sell electric energy at wholesale in interstate commerce. See 16 U.S.C. 824(b). Electric energy is transmitted in interstate commerce if it is “transmitted from a State and consumed at any point outside thereof; but only insofar as such transmission takes place within the United States.” See 16 U.S.C. 824(c).
FERC order No. 2003 applies to all public utilities that own, control or operate facilities used for transmitting electric energy in interstate commerce to have on file standard procedures and a standard agreement for interconnecting generators larger than 20 MW. For more information, see:
(See FERC Order No. 2003)
FERC Order No. 792 requires all public utilities that own, control, or operate facilities used for transmitting electric energy in interstate commerce to adopt standard rules for interconnecting new sources of electricity no larger than 20 megawatts (MW). FERC Order No. 792 continues the process begun in Order No. 2003 of standardizing the terms and conditions of interconnection service for interconnection customers of all sizes. For more information, see:
8.7 to 8.10 – Will the Project Interconnect with the Local or Regional Power Grid?
The Federal Energy Administration Act requires certain developers of electric generating plants to submit an annual electric generator report to the US Energy Information Administration EIA (EIA), which collects and publishes data on the status of existing and proposed electric generating plants. Generally, the developer of a proposed hydropower project must provide information to the EIA if the project: 1) will interconnect with the local or regional power grid; 2) has a proposed nameplate capacity of 1 MW or greater; and 3) is expected to begin commercial operation within five years. If these conditions are met, the developer must submit Form EIA-860 directly to the EIA, annually, between the first business day of January and the last business day of February. For proposed projects, the filing should reflect the most up to date information available at the time the filing is made. Form EIA-860; Form EIA-860 Instructions.
For hydropower project’s located in Alaska, the developer must respond to the EIA-860 if the project is connected to a local or regional transmission or distribution system that supplies power to the public. Form EIA-860 Instructions.
For hydropower project’s located in Hawaii, the developer must respond to the EIA-860 if the project is connected to a local or regional transmission or distribution system that supplies power to the public. Form EIA-860 Instructions.
8.11 – Is the Transmission Facility in a Designated Federal Electric Corridor?
Under Section 216(a) of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 824p (a)), the Secretary of Energy is required to conduct a study of electric transmission congestion, issue a report, and if necessary designate any geographic area experiencing transmission capacity constraints or congestion that adversely affects consumers as a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC).
8.12 to 8.13 – Does the Facility Require a Construction Permit from FERC?
Under Section 216(b) of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 824p (b)), FERC has jurisdiction over construction permits for transmission facilities in NIETCs used for the transmission of energy in interstate commerce if:
- A state in which the transmission facility is to be constructed or modified does not have authority to approve the siting of the facility;
- A state in which the transmission facility is to be constructed or modified does not have authority to consider the interstate benefits expected to be achieved by the proposed construction or modification of the facility;
- The applicant for a permit is a transmitting utility under the Federal Power Act but does not qualify to apply for a permit or siting approval for the prosed project in a state because the applicant does not serve end-use customers in the state;
- A state commission or other entity that has authority to approve the siting of the transmission facility has withheld approval for more than one year after the filing of an application seeking approval pursuant to applicable law or one year after the designation of the relevant NIETC, whichever is later (Note: This does not give FERC permitting authority when a state has affirmatively denied a permit application within the one year deadline, see Pedmont Envtl. Council v. FERC, 558 F.3d 304 (4th Cir. 2009); or
- A state commission or other entity that has authority to approve the siting of the transmission facility has conditioned its approval in such a manner that the proposed construction or modification will not significantly reduce transmission congestion in interstate commerce or is not economically feasible. For more information, see:
8-14 to 8.15 - Does the Facility Require a State Route Certificate?
In states in which the DOE has designated an NIETC, the state may have its own NIETC route approval process. This process may be connected or separate from a state coordinated process for siting transmission facilities. The states of Washington and Idaho have processes applicable to NIETCs.
8.16 to 8.17 – Will the Transmission Lines Encroach on a State Highway Right-of-Way?
Transmission lines that pass through, over, or under a highway right-of-way generally require an encroachment permit. The process for obtaining an encroachment permit varies from state to state.
In Alaska, a developer must obtain a State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Encroachment Permit (Encroachment Permit) from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) prior to constructing, maintaining, or changing an encroachment within a DOT&PF highway right-of-way (ROW), unless otherwise provided for by agency regulations. 17 AAC § 10.010; Alaska Stat. § 19.25.200(a). For more information see:
In California, a developer must obtain an encroachment permit from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for any activities related to the placement of encroachments within, under or over California highway rights of way. Cal. Sts. & High. Code § 670(a)(2). For more information, see:
In Colorado, a developer may need a State Highway Access Permit and/or a State Utility-Special Use Permit from the Colorado Department of Transportation for projects that encroach on a State highway right-of-way. CRS 43-1-110 et seq., Powers and Duties of the Department of Transportation; CRS 43-2-102, Department of Transportation Maintain Highway System; Colorado – C.R.S. 43-2-147, Access to Public Highways. For more information, see:
In New York, a developer may need to obtain a State Highway Permit for Non-Utility Work and/or a State Highway Utility Work Permit from the New York State Department of Transportation for projects that encroach on, or require work within a State highway right-of-way. N.Y. Highway L. § 52; N.Y. Highway L. § 10; N.Y. Highway L. § 52; 17 CCR-NY §§ 125-134 et seq., Work Permits on State Highways and Bridges. For more information, see:
In Vermont, a developer must obtain a Vermont Highway Right-of-Way Permit (permit) prior to performing any work within a State Highway right-of-way or on adjacent property that will affect drainage reaching the right-of-way. 19 V.S.A. § 1111. For more information, see:
8.18 to 8.20 – Will All Associated Transmission Lines Be Sited as Part of the FERC Licensing Process?
If all associated transmission lines will be sited as part of the FERC licensing process (all lines are primary transmission lines), then the developer will not complete a separate process for transmission rights-of-way alone. If all transmission facilities will be sited under a FERC license, no additional permits are needed beyond those for access over state land and interconnection (discussed above).
However, if any transmission facility will not be sited under a FERC license, the developer will need to follow additional processes for siting and interconnecting transmission facilities as described in 8.17 to 8.20 (below). For all transmission not sited as part of the FERC licensing process, whether secondary lines or associated with an exempt project, the developer must obtain all necessary rights-of-way from the appropriate state or federal agency, or individual before construction can begin. Each agency has a different permitting process for transmission rights-of-way. The Section 3 overview will direct the user to the appropriate permitting process. For more information, see:
8.21 to 8.22 – Does the State Have a Comprehensive Siting Process for Transmission Facilities?
The state may have a process for siting and/or coordinating various reviews and approvals for constructing a transmission facility. The coordinated approach may consolidate the siting process and most permitting functions under the authority of a single state agency.
Alaska does not, currently, have a comprehensive siting process for transmission facilities.
California does not, currently, have a comprehensive siting process for transmission facilities.
In Colorado, both the state and local governments are involved in the transmission permitting process. A developer may need to comply with state and local permitting requirements. For more information, see:
New York does not, currently, have a comprehensive siting process for transmission facilities.
Vermont does not, currently, have a comprehensive siting process for transmission facilities.
In Washington, a hydropower developer may need to obtain a Site Certification Agreement from the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (“EFSEC”) to construct or modify a transmission line, in a national interest electric transmission corridor, outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license boundary. RCW 80.50.060(1)-(3); 463 WAC-61-030. For more information, see:
8.23 to 8.24 – Does the State Have a Role in the Interconnection Process for Transmission Facilities?
Some states may require the developer to obtain permission before connecting their generation facility to the grid. This process is called interconnection, which differs from state level transmission siting processes. When permission is required, the process varies from state to state, as does the permitting authority.
Alaska does not, currently, have a state interconnection process for generating facilities to connect to the grid.
In California, an interconnection customer (IC) who wants to connect a generating facility to the California ISO grid must apply and meet the requirements set out by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). For more information, see:
Colorado does not, currently, have a state interconnection process for generating facilities to connect to the grid.
In New York, a developer must file an Interconnection Request with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to connect a new generating facility, or merchant transmission facility, to the New York State (NYS) Transmission System. A developer may also need to file an Interconnection Request with NYISO for material modifications to an existing large facility or modifications to an existing Interconnection Request. NYISO Transmission Expansion and Interconnection Manual, at § 3.1; NYISO Open Access Transmission Tariff (OATT) §§ 3.9, 4.5.8, 3.11, 4.5.9. For more information, see:
Vermont does not, currently, have a state interconnection process for generating facilities to connect to the grid.
8.25 to 8.26 – Does the Facility Require Approval from a State Utility Regulatory Authority?
Depending on the requirements of the particular state, the developer may need to obtain a Certificate of Public Good (CPG), a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), or other approval from a state utility regulatory authority such as a public utilities commission for transmission line extension projects outside of the FERC license boundary. In some cases, the CPCN process for interconnection may be combined with the CPCN process for the generation facility. Whether the transmission facility will require a CPCN differs by state, possible requirements include:
- Whether the transmission facility is within the a specific kilovolt (kV) threshold requiring regulation; or
- Whether the developer is regulated by the state utility regulatory authority (e.g., the developer falls under the definition of a “public utility” within the relevant state statute).
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has jurisdiction over the primary transmission lines for most hydroelectric projects. However, a developer may need to obtain a CPCN from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska for transmission line extension projects located outside of a FERC license boundary. For more information, see:
California requires that any proposed project for the construction of transmission line facilities, defined as 200 kV or more, must obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the California Public Utilities Commission. For more information, see:
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requires developers, which fall under the definition of “public utility” and “cooperative electrical associations” which choose not to be regulated as public utilities (CEAs), to apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) for new construction and extension of transmission facilities in the state. 4 CCR 723-3-3206, Construction or Extension of Transmission Facilities. A “public utility” includes “every common carrier, pipeline corporation…electrical corporation,… person, or municipality operating for the purpose of supplying the public for domestic, mechanical, or public uses and every corporation, or person declared by law to be affected with a public interest” providing electric, steam, or associated services in the state of Colorado. CRS 40-1-103; 4 CCR 723-3-3001(oo). For more information, see:
In New York, a hydropower developer may need to obtain a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) from the New York State Public Service Commission (Commission) for the construction and operation of transmission lines outside of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license boundary or for transmission lines associated with a qualifying conduit hydropower facility with a nameplate capacity of 5MW or less. N.Y. Pub. Serv. Law §121(1), Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need; N.Y. Pub. Serv. Law §120(2), Definitions. For more information, see:
In Vermont, a developer may need to obtain a Certificate of Public Good (CPG), from the Public Service Board (Board) for a transmission line extension project, or a group net-metered hydroelectric power system interconnection. For more information, see:
Washington does not, currently, require hydropower developers to obtain a certificate or approval for transmission facilities.
8.25 – Continue with Project
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- Title 16 U.S.C. 824 - Declaration of policy, application of subchapter
- Title 16 USC 824p Siting of Interstate Electric Transmission Facilities
- FERC Order No. 2003 Standard Interconnection Agreements & Procedures for Large Generators
- FERC Order No. 792 Small Generator Interconnection Agreements and Procedures
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