Arriance Infra Blog

BLOG POST 1: The Future of Energy Infrastructure

Transmission lines hold much of the same challenge and promise of the interstate highway system a century ago. The transmission network – the high voltage, long distance power lines that carry electricity from power facilities and into communities – is currently a patchwork system, lacking centralized organization or planning. Assuming that America cannot achieve 100% clean energy with distributed resources, the transport of renewable electric energy across state lines is a major hurdle to realizing a future without fossil fuels
Transmission line siting is state rule. Generally, the federal government regulates the electricity that travels in the transmission system and the sale of that electricity. Siting is a matter of local land use controls and state sovereignty. Every transmission line that crosses a state border must go through the years long siting and permitting process of each individual state.

How do the transmission lines get built to move this energy from geographically isolated places to urban areas throughout the country? Why would any state sacrifice its sovereignty and bear the environmental, social, political, and economic burden of covering itself in transmission line networks to serve out of state end users? It’s a problem more complicated than requiring more renewable energy. It necessitates the federal government or perhaps regional interstate compacts to consider environmental, land use, federalist, economic, and political values.


Initially, transmission lines caught the nation’s attention after a series of blackouts in the early 2000s. Addressing these reliability issues and the underlying problem of transmission line bottlenecks, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the DOE to establish National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (“NIETCs”) and gave FERC some added authority over transmission line siting within NIETCs. A full recounting of these regulations and the resulting litigation is available here [pdf (pg. 8)]. Basically, eight years later the NIETCs do not yet exist and FERC’s siting authority is limited to being able to step in if a state does not act within a year on deciding on a transmission siting permit in a NIETC.

The wedge idea still exists; there will continue to be many complimentary energy solutions. I recently co-authored articles on the viability of microgrids for climate resilient communities and the interconnection rules for small-scale renewable generation. It’s been an exciting time to track the evolution of frequency regulation and storage. Developing these solutions and more while wrestling with multiple value systems is the best way forward. As far as transmission lines go, under current federal laws, regional interstate compacts seem promising.