Federal agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) create and enforce regulations and standards for energy transmission based upon reliability and safety. BLM, for example, manages federal land to ensure the energy needs of the country are met with both renewable and non-renewable resources. BLM specifically reviews and approves permits for companies to explore and develop energy opportunities on federal and tribal lands. BLM is also responsible for the inspection and enforcement of development and use of energy wells, as well as other developments. FERC plays more of a role in the transmission of the energy, rather than the development and extrapolation. FERC approves the siting, desertion, reliability and safe operation of natural gas pipelines. They are also involved in environmental and financial matters, along with much of the transmission of energy and electricity.
The State’s role regarding transmission siting is limited. The state only has direct siting authority when proposed transmission projects seek to use state property. Various state agencies have limited authority related to associated permits and application matters and a catalogue of agency involvement has been prepared by the Office of Energy and Mineral Resources (OEMR). Some very specific siting authority has been granted to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (IPUC). This IPUC’s role is largely confined to limited backstop authority tied to a federal designation of a National Interest Corridor. Additionally, transmission developers can obtain priority status through the IPUC. However, this designation does not address the siting of transmission lines and instead focuses on the need for additional capacity and reliability associated with a project.
When projects involve federal land the OEMR serves as the lead agency for the state in relationship to Idaho’s Cooperating Agency Status. The OEMR does not have the authority to determine transmission line siting or compensation for transmission lines. The OEMR is basically a hub for all the different agencies, coordinating the dance between the different agencies and the utilities to ensure the present and future of Idaho’s energy generation and consumption. Other state agencies involved include the Idaho Department of Lands, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, the Idaho Transportation Department, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Idaho State Historical Society.
A significant portion of siting authority rests with local units of government. Accordingly, local jurisdictions are responsible for providing venues for public comment and participation as it relates to local siting considerations.
Under provisions of the Land Use Planning Act, the county commissions or governing boards exercise specific functions regarding the siting and permitting of transmission line corridors and infrastructure. Chapter 65, Title 67 of Idaho Code extends authority to the counties to include transmission corridors in their comprehensive plans and provides ordinance authority and processes for granting such permits.
Pursuant to 67-6508 h, p, Idaho Code, it is the duty of the planning and zoning commission to conduct comprehensive planning within their jurisdiction. The plan is to include an analysis of utility transmission corridors and, when notified of a possible federally designated corridor, show the existing location and possible routing of high voltage transmission lines.
67-6512, Idaho Code, authorizes county commissioners to adopt special or conditional use permits in accordance with notice and hearing requirements. The ordinance provides for an application process and allows for specially permitted uses, such as transmission lines, with conditions attached. These may include any social, economic, fiscal, and environmental studies that may be required. The use must be in compliance with the comprehensive plan.
67-6519, Idaho Code, creates a process for governing boards to follow regarding examination and consideration of an application within a reasonable timeframe, determined by the governing body. It also specifies that the governing board state the reasons for approval or denial of an application, specify the ordinance and standards used for their evaluation, and inform the applicant of any action available to gain a permit or appeal a decision.
67-6535, Idaho Code, further requires the governing board to document its decision to grant or deny a permit in writing based on standards and criteria set forth in the comprehensive plan, applicable ordinance, or regulation.
With many risks involved in transmission lines, it is important to make sure that the power for the entire state does not go out if one line is taken out by a fire, a car accident, a tree, overloads in the system, or any other possibility that nature can throw our way. The Western Electric Coordinating Council, or WECC, plays a role on line rating and reliability relating to transmission lines. The N-1 criteria refer to having all but one of all possible operations running, which makes N-1 criteria a reliability issue. Having the lines close to each other lowers reliability, since a single event has a larger chance of taking down multiple lines. This is especially a concern in Idaho, where wild fires spread rapidly in our dry climate. When the lines are put too close together, the chance of the power going out increases for all citizens.