Solar Transmission Siting and Interconnection Overview (8)
Note, FERC also requires 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.
If the developer will need to connect transmission lines to the grid, then they must obtain an interconnection agreement. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has jurisdiction over interconnection of wholesale generators who need to connect their facilities to a transmission system. To obviate the delays and lack of standardization that discouraged merchant generators from entering the market place and thereby providing 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.
Transmission Siting and Interconnection Overview Process
8.1 - Will the Power Plant Developer Negotiate an Interconnection Agreement?
If the power plant developer needs to interconnect with the grid, then they will likely need to negotiate an interconnection agreement.
8.2 to 8.3 - Will the Facility Be Located within the ERCOT Power Region?
If the project will interconnect with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), who manages the flow of electricity in most of Texas, then the transmission process is particularly unique and specific rules and procedures will apply.
8.4 to 8.7 – 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.
(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). It continues the process begun in Order No. 2003 of standardizing the terms and conditions of interconnection service for interconnection customers of all sizes.
8.8 to 8.12 – Is the Transmission Facility in an NIETC?
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). This designation could provide FERC with limited siting authority pursuant to the FPA under certain circumstances.
Under Section 216(b) of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 824p (b)) the 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.
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.
8.13 to 8.14 – Does the State Have a Role in the Siting Process for Transmission Facilities?
Most states require developers to obtain some type of permission for the construction of transmission facilities. States that require siting approval may require a permit from the state Public Utilities Commission or related state agency, a permit obtained from local or county governments, or demonstration of compliance with zoning and land use regulations. Below is a list of states that require some type of siting permission.
If the developer is constructing a thermal power plant with a capacity of 50mw or more, the attendant power lines that connect the power plant to the grid will be sited as part of the California Energy Commission (CEC) permit process.
In Colorado, transmission line siting is generally permitted at the local level.
In Hawaii, the Public Utilities Commission must hold a hearing and approve the construction of above ground transmission lines that are 46kV or greater.
In Texas, developers may be required to comply with local siting requirements before constructing a transmission line.
Developers in Utah must obtain land use approval from local governments before commencing construction of transmission lines.
Transmission siting in Montana is governed by the Montana Major Facility Siting Act of 2003 (MFSA) which requires developers to obtain a Certificate of Compliance (CC) from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). See MONT CODE ANN § 75-20-101 et seq.
The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council has jurisdiction over the siting of all transmission lines over 230kv. Developers must apply to the Council for a site certificate before transmission lines over 230kv can be constructed.
In Washington, the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council issues Transmission Siting Certifications for the construction, reconstruction, or modification of electrical transmission facilities under RCW § 80.50.045 and any facility that is located in a national interest electric transmission corridor as specified in RCW § 80.50.045.
In New Mexico, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC) has siting authority for the construction of all electric transmission lines with a capacity of 230kV or more. Any person proposing to construct transmission lines with a capacity of 230kV or more must file an Application for a Location Permit with the NMPRC. NM Stat. 62-9-3(B).
8.15 to 8.16 – Does the State Have a Role in the Interconnection Process for Transmission Facilities?
As with the state siting processes for transmission lines, some states may require the developer to obtain permission before connecting their generation facility to the grid. This process is called interconnection. When permission is required, the process varies from state to state, as does the permitting authority. Below is a list of states that require some type of interconnection permission.
In California, an Interconnection Customer (IC) must apply for interconnection permission from the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).
In New Mexico, the developer must obtain permission from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to interconnect a new generating facility, or to increase the capacity or make a material modification to the operating characteristics of an existing generating facility that is interconnected with the utility’s system.
Developers in Texas must file a Generation Resource Interconnection or Change Request with the ERCOT before connecting a generation facility to the grid.
8.17 to 8.18 – Does the Facility Require Approval from a State Utility Regulatory Authority?
Depending on the requirements of the particular state, the developer may need a CPCN or other approval from a state utility regulatory authority such as a public utilities commission. 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 following is a list of state specific definitions for the term “public utility”:
In Alaska, a public utility includes “every corporation whether public, cooperative, or otherwise; company; individual; or association of individuals, their lessees, trustees, or receivers appointed by a court, that owns, operates, manages, or controls any plant, pipeline, or system for (A) furnishing, by generation, transmission, or distribution, electrical service to the public for compensation…” See AS § 42.05.990(6). Because transmission lines are included in the definition of “public utility,” new transmission lines require a CPCN from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
According to the California Public Utilities Act (Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 201 et seq.), a public utility includes an “electric corporation… where the service is performed for, or the commodity is delivered to, the public or any portion thereof.” See Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 216. An electric corporation includes “every corporation or person owning, controlling, operating, or managing any electric plant for compensation within this state, except where electricity is generated on or distributed by the producer through private property solely for its own use or the use of its tenants and not for sale or transmission to others.” See Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 218. An electric plant includes “all real estate; fixtures; and personal property owned, controlled, operated, or managed in connection with or to facilitate the production, generation, transmission, delivery, or furnishing of electricity for light, heat, or power, and all conduits, ducts, or other devices, materials, apparatus, or property for containing, holding, or carrying conductors used or to be used for the transmission of electricity for light, heat, or power. See Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 217.
Public utilities must obtain a CPCN from the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) before constructing a transmission line of 200kv or more. Transmission lines constructed by an electric corporation that are between 50kv and 200kv require a Permit to Construct from PUC. See General Order 131-D(III)(A)-(B)].
A public utility includes an “electric 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…” See C.R.S. § 40-1-103(1)(a)(I).
New transmission lines constructed by a “public utility” in Colorado require a CPCN from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission if:
- The transmission facilities designed at 230Kv or above, even if initially operated at a lower voltage. However, a radial transmission line designed at 230Kv or above that serves a single retail customer and terminates at that customer’s premises will not require a CPCN application.
- The transmission facilities designed at 115Kv or 138Kv if the facilities do not meet the noise and magnetic field thresholds listed in 4 C.C.R. 723-3-3206(e) and (f) or the PUC determines that the facilities are not in the ordinary course of business. 4 C.C.R. § 723-2-3206(b)(II).
In Hawaii, a public utility includes “any person who may own, control, operate or manage as owner, lessee, trustee, receiver, or otherwise, whether under a franchise, charter, license, articles of association, or otherwise, any plant or equipment, or any part thereof, directly or indirectly for public use, for…the production, conveyance, transmission, delivery, or furnishing of light, power, heat …” However, “any person who controls, operates, or manages facilities for the production, transmission or furnishing of power primarily or entirely from non-fossil fuel sources” and sells or transmits all of that power to a public utility for transmission to the public is not a public utility. Therefore, interconnection for renewable energy projects will generally not require a CPCN. See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 269-1. Instead, the developer must obtain a Transmission Line Approval from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to interconnect to the grid.
In Idaho, a public utility must obtain a CPCN from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) before constructing a new transmission line. See Idaho Transmission Siting Information.
A public utility includes an “electric corporation,” “Where the service is performed and the commodity delivered directly to the public or some portion thereof, and where the service is performed or the commodity delivered to any corporation or corporations, or any person or persons, who in turn, either directly or indirectly or mediately or immediately, performs the services or delivers such commodity to or for the public or some portion thereof.” See Idaho Code Ann. § 61‐129. An “electric corporation” includes every entity who owns, operates, controls, or manages an “electric plant” for compensation within the state. See Idaho Code Ann. § 61‐119. An “electric plant” includes all real estate, fixtures and personal property owned, controlled, operated or managed in connection with or to facilitate the production, generation, transmission, delivery or furnishing of electricity for light, heat or power, and all conduits, ducts or other devices, materials, apparatus or property for containing, holding or carrying conductors used or to be used for the transmission of electricity for light, heat or power.” See Idaho Code Ann. § 61‐118.
Montana does not require a CPCN.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC) has authority over the siting of high voltage transmission lines in the state. If the developer is a “public utility,” it must obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the NMPRC before commencing construction. NM Stat. 62-9-1(A).
Developers of transmission lines and facilities are included under the regulation of public utilities in Nevada, and as such must obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUC) if they qualify as a “public utility.” The term “public utility” includes “any plant or equipment, or any part of a plant or equipment, within this State for the production, delivery or furnishing for or to other persons, including private or municipal corporations, heat, gas, coal slurry, light, power in any form or by any agency, water for business, manufacturing, agricultural or household use, or sewerage service, whether or not within the limits of municipalities.” NRS 704.020(2)(a).
Oregon does not require a CPCN.
In Texas, a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) is required for new electric transmission lines constructed by an “electric utility” or a “retail electric utility,” in accordance with Texas Utilities Code § 37.051 of the Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURA) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas Substantive Rule § 25.101(b). A "retail electric utility" means a person, political subdivision, electric cooperative, or agency that operates, maintains, or controls in this state a facility to provide retail electric utility service. See Texas Utilities Code § 37.001.
In Utah, the definition of “public utility” includes an “electric corporation” “where the service is performed for, or the commodity delivered to, the public generally, or in the case of a gas corporation or electrical corporation where the gas or electricity is sold or furnished to any member or consumers within the state for domestic, commercial, or industrial use.” See Utah Code 54-2-1(19). Under Utah Code 54-4-25, any "electric corporation, telephone corporation, telegraph corporation, heat corporation, water corporation, or sewerage corporation may not establish, or begin construction or operation of a line, route, plant, or system or of any extension of a line, route, plant, or system, without having first obtained from the commission a certificate that present or future public convenience and necessity does or will require the construction."
Utah defines "electrical corporation” in Utah Code 54-2-1(7) to include every corporation, cooperative association, and person, their lessees, trustees, and receivers, owning, controlling, operating, or managing any electric plant, or in any way furnishing electric power for public service or to its consumers or members for domestic, commercial, or industrial use, within this state…” except independent energy producers or entities producing power for their own use.
Washington does not require a CPCN.
8.19 to 8.20 – Will Transmission Be Sited on State, Federal or Tribal Lands?
Transmission that is sited on state, federal or tribal lands requires a right-of-way from the appropriate agency, tribe, or individual before construction can begin. Each agency has a different permitting process for transmission rights-of-way. Tribal rights-of-way can vary depending on where the land is located and which statute the right-of-way is authorized under. The section 3 overview will direct the user to the appropriate federal or tribal permitting process.
8.21 to 8.22 - Will Transmission Line Be Sited on Private Lands?
Developers should negotiate directly with private owners to acquire access for transmission lines. In some cases, eminent domain may be used to obtain an easement across the property. Even though the land is held by a private owner, the developer must still obtain the permits and permissions listed in section 8.1 through 8.17.
8.23 – Continue with Project
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- 16 U.S.C. 824
- 16 U.S.C. 824p
- FERC Order No. 2003 - Final Rule
- FERC Order No. 792
- Montana Code Annotated § 75-20-101 et seq.
- Revised Code of Washington § 80.50.045
- Alaska Statutes § 42.05.990
- California Public Utilities Act
- Colorado Revised Statutes § 40-1-103
- 4 Colorado Code of Regulations § 723-3-3206
- Idaho Code Ann. § 61-101 et seq.
- Nevada Revised Statutes § 704.865
- Nevada Revised Statutes § 704.860(2)
- Texas Utilities Code § 37.001
- Texas Utilities Code § 37.051
- Public Utility Commission of Texas Substantive Rule § 25.101(b)
- Utah Code § 54-2-1
- Utah Code § 54-4-25
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