In response to a Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) directive that the Department of Energy (DOE) report on electric transmission congestion nationwide (congestion study), DOE has issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking advise on how to proceed. So begins a process with the hoped-for result of catalyzing the construction of transmission facilities in areas desperately in need of enhanced transfer capability. Public comments in response to the NOI are due March 6, 2006.
The congestion study will inventory geographic areas where significant congestion exists. DOE will publish the congestion study by August 8, 2006, and seek further public comment at that time. As the follow-up report may include designations of geographic areas with transmission capacity constraints or congestion adversely affecting consumers as "national interest electric transmission corridors" (NIETCs) [See Congress Enacts Energy Bill and Energy Policy Act of 2005 Hands FERC a Long To-Do List], comments on the study may propose potential NIETCs. DOE will then evaluate those potential NIETCs based on certain criteria, some of which DOE has identified and offered for comment, including whether there is a "clear need" to remedy reliability problems, and whether NIETC designation would enhance U.S. energy independence.
Designation as a NIETC will open the door for FERC to issue permits for construction of electric transmission facilities in the NIETC. Prerequisite to issuing such a permit, FERC must determine that a proposed transmission project will serve the public interest and that the state where it would be located cannot or will not issue a permit. The next milestone in this process will be selection of the criteria used to evaluate NIETC nominations - the result of which will affect both the scope and success of the NIETC initiative.