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Discussing the electric grid of the future were, clockwise from top left, Elizabeth Salerno with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, NCSL’s Ben Husch, Jennifer Murphy with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and Adam Benshoff with the Edison Electric Institute.

Upgrading the Grid: What States Can Do, and How the Feds Can Help

By Austin Igleheart | Aug. 5, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

How to effectively expand and modernize electric transmission infrastructure to maintain a reliable, secure and efficient electric grid for the future was the focus of an NCSL Base camp session.

NCSL’s Ben Husch was joined by panelists Adam Benshoff of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Liz Salerno of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Jennifer Murphy of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) to discuss some of the hurdles facing grid modernization and reliable transmission and point the way to possible solutions.

Investment and planning in transmission infrastructure will be critically important as states aim to achieve goals related to renewable energy, emissions reductions and reliability. As the mix of resources used to generate electricity quickly changes, with renewable sources coming online at an unprecedented rate, so does the infrastructure required to effectively transmit this energy across the grid.

States have been a main driver of the changing resource mix on the electric grid and remain a critical voice in the decision-making process.

To address the need for long-term grid and transmission modernization, it is not enough to focus solely on today’s challenges of congestion and reliability. It is important that stakeholders plan for future transmission needs and collaborate on balancing costs, reliability and efficiency in a way that maximizes the benefits of a modern grid and the increased use of renewable resources for electricity.

Importantly, states have been a main driver of the changing resource mix on the electric grid and remain a critical voice in the decision-making process. To this end, panelists at the session highlighted the formation of a first-of-its-kind task force by FERC and NARUC.

State and federal regulators will now have a joint forum for collaborating, resolving disputes and disagreements, and improving planning around what is needed—and what is possible—for future energy transmission. The panelists agreed that “one size does not fit all,” and that collaboration between states and federal regulators can result in state-specific solutions that work for consumers and help meet broader energy goals.

Panelists discussed federal efforts to modernize the grid and meet future transmission needs, including proposed legislation that would provide funding for grid infrastructure and research and development.

Salerno highlighted the formal establishment of FERC’s long-authorized, but until recently unfunded, Office of Public Participation. She also discussed upcoming regulatory action around regional transmission planning, interconnection processes and cost allocation. FERC’s recent Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking explained how the commission can reform regional transmission planning, along with how to properly allocate costs and quantify the benefits of large-scale transmission.

It also served as an acknowledgement that oversight is necessary starting early in the process to ensure infrastructure investments are made wisely and efficiently. States and other stakeholders are welcome to comment on the FERC notice. Comments will be considered as the commission decides how to move forward with any proposed regulations, and NCSL encourages its members to take advantage of this chance to be heard.

With new federal investments and actions coming, and given states’ key role in regulating utilities and helping ensure residents have reliable power, it is especially important that FERC involves states early and often as the nation moves forward to modernize the grid.

As this session made clear, developing a secure and redundant transmission system is key to unlocking broader state energy goals and will require states and federal partners to collaborate in advancing a flexible, sustainable approach for the future.

Austin Igleheart is a policy associate in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program.

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