WASHINGTON – A committee of state and federal leaders is drawing up a broad-based agreement that would create regionally uniform standards for transmitting electricity across a broad spectrum of states. It hopes to have its product ready for legislatures by next year.
The compact would solve a problem that has long plagued the energy industry. Because of widely varying state transmission rules, it’s often difficult to send energy where it’s needed most.
In addition to differences in the law from one state to another, the competing interests of other stakeholders, such as producers and distributors, make transmission line siting an especially cumbersome process, particularly for projects that would stretch across several states. That makes some developers reluctant to invest large sums of money, especially in sparsely populated areas of the country.
“The electric transmission grid is in great need of modernization and improvement,” said Kim Koppelman, a North Dakota state lawmaker active in the effort. “This interstate compact can be a valuable tool in accomplishing that.”
States have made several previous attempts to forge agreements on transmission line siting, but none has been widely adopted. A successful compact would be a boon to states with undeveloped capacity to generate renewable energy. Montana, for instance, is a leader in wind energy potential, but it does not rank among the leaders in production because of transmission siting problems. The same can be said for Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Crady deGolian, who directs the National Center for Interstate Compacts at the Council of State Governments, which is overseeing the agreement, said the committee is not yet certain which states will consider the compact, but he expects it to garner the most interest from legislatures in Western and Midwestern states.
Agreements such as the one being drawn up are legal contracts between states. Most states belong to more than 20 such compacts among more than 215 that exist, according to deGolian.
Other attempts to speed up transmission siting are being made at the federal level. In October, a federal interagency team selected seven pilot projects to expedite, stretching across 12 states.