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Comments to FERC on Environmental Justice Priorities for Transmission Planning

By Tyson Slocum

Today in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Docket RM21-17 we submitted the following comments:

In December 1999, FERC Order 2000 encouraged the voluntary creation of ISOs/RTOs to “facilitate lighter handed regulation” so that ISOs/RTOs “would reduce the need for Commission oversight and scrutiny, which would benefit both the Commission and the industry.”[1] While the industry certainly has benefited, environmental justice and low income households have not under this unprecedented deregulation of grid governance. This advance notice of proposed rulemaking presents an opportunity for the Commission to right this wrong and mandate sweeping governance and transparency reforms of the nation’s private grid operators.

The Commission must ensure that all communities and stakeholders potentially impacted by financial, environmental justice and landowner issues stemming from proposed transmission lines can effectively participate in transmission evaluation, planning and siting. In the six regions where utilities have voluntarily turned transmission planning over to independent grid operators, the ISOs/RTOs enforce a private stakeholder process that excludes the ability of communities impacted by proposed transmission siting—including environmental justice and low income households—to meaningfully participate. The Commission must therefore compel the ISOs/RTOs to affirmatively engage and coordinate assistance to all communities directly impacted by the siting of proposed transmission lines in their stakeholder process. It is crucial to involve impacted communities at the ISO/RTO planning process because once a proposed transmission line is approved by the ISO/RTO, impacted communities have little recourse once the siting and eminent domain challenges begin, since the project has already been greenlighted for approval long before at the ISO/RTO level.

Second, any effort to encourage ISO/RTO expansion as a means to facilitate transmission planning must be paired with ISO/RTO governance reforms. Any consumer benefits that result from requiring vertically-integrated utilities that are not voluntary participants in an ISO/RTO to join such independent grid operators may be undone by the horrendous track record ISOs/RTOs have in engaging impacted communities in their internal stakeholder procedures. Mandating or incentivizing ISO/RTO expansion without accompanying overhauls to vastly improve the public’s ability to monitor, engage and influence ISO/RTO behavior will simply enshrine the current unjust status of the ISO/RTO stakeholder process. As a remedy, the Commission could initiate a Notice of Inquiry of Order 719 and establish an overhaul of governance, transparency and public participation standards in order for an organization to be considered to serve as an ISO/RTO.

Environmental justice communities and low income households have been systematically deprived of meaningful access to the ISO/RTO stakeholder process. Any rulemaking that seeks to expand the ISO/RTO role in facilitating transmission planning must include reforms to ensure that environmental justice, low income households and other affected communities have a seat at the table.

[1] At pages 3 and 96, www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/RM99-2-00K_0.pdf