How to Put 10,000 Americans to Work: Coordinate Transmission Permitting Across Gov’t Agencies

by Richard W. Caperton

Raise your hand if you know who permits transmission lines.

This should be easy, right? It’s the Department of Energy. And the Department of the Interior. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (At this point, you’re out of hands to raise.) And the Department of Agriculture. And the Environmental Protection Agency. And tribes, states, counties, and cities.

The truth is, it’s not easy to permit a transmission line. It’s a cumbersome, laborious process that involves working with multiple agencies at multiple levels of government, all of which have an important role to play.

Even though it’s difficult, we can’t just give up the fight: we need to build more properly-sited transmission to carry additional clean energy and to reduce blackouts that harm our economy.

Yesterday, nine federal entities announced seven new transmission lines that will be pilot projects for a new permitting process. By coordinating schedules and processes, making work with Tribal governments more consistent, and reducing conflicts across agencies, this new process will reduce the permitting time for critical transmission investments.

It’s important to remember, too, that transmission lines don’t just appear out of thin air. Transmission lines are massive construction projects that will employ thousands of people in good jobs. These seven lines are expected to create more than 10,000 jobs across twelve states.

The announcement for this exciting new project had reactions from across government. Here are a few quotes:

“Transmission is a vital component of our nation’s energy portfolio, and these seven lines, when completed, will serve as important links across our country to increase our power grid’s capacity and reliability,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This is the kind of critical infrastructure we should be working together to advance in order to create jobs and move our nation toward energy independence.”

“To compete in the global economy, we need a modern electricity grid,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “An upgraded electricity grid will give consumers choices while promoting energy savings, increasing energy efficiency, and fostering the growth of renewable energy resources.”

“USDA’s collaboration with other agencies to build electric transmission will help to meet our country’s electric needs in the 21st century,” [Agriculture Secretary Tom ] Vilsack said. “These infrastructure projects will also create jobs and opportunities that will strengthen our economy to benefit households and businesses throughout the country.”

“These projects will put Americans to work building the electricity grid of the future – one that allows for more electric vehicles on the road and homes and businesses powered by renewable energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. “This is yet another step forward in our efforts to build a 21st century energy sector in America that is cleaner, healthier and more sustainable.”

These pilot projects should help teach the government valuable lessons in coordinating their efforts. With any luck, future transmission developers won’t have to deal with quite as challenging a process as they do now.

Richard Caperton is a senior policy analyst on the energy team at the Center for American Progress

7 Responses to How to Put 10,000 Americans to Work: Coordinate Transmission Permitting Across Gov’t Agencies

  1. Mike Roddy says:


    Is there any talk of DC? Also, what is the power loss per 500 miles with modern AC transmission technology? Just curious…

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Oops, I meant Richard, and nice to hear from on this- good piece.

  3. catman306 says:

    They replaced a 15kva transmission line on the power line right of way across from my house with a 230kva line. It was a big deal. Thousands of big trees cut down, etc. The right of way had to be widened.

    On a quiet night I can hear crackling coming from the new wires. That noise is just part of the inefficiency built into long power lines. Heat, and electromagnetic waves are two more.

    Mike Roddy, I’d heard that 10 to 20% of the energy is lost using long distance high voltage transmission lines. Maybe someone has a link.

  4. Leif says:

    Last winter here in the North West, we had a huge snow pack and run-off with the dams swamping the power grid. Much of our significant wind capacity was forced to idle because the grid could not accommodate it. As extremes become the norm the grid will be paramount.

    Good question Mike, I would like to know as well.

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks, Dave!

  6. jim says:

    Before he became energy secretary, Steve Chu went around giving the best talk ever on transmission. “We do transmission in the US the way we did roads in 1949. Some president, maybe even our next president, will Federalize the process and build the interstate transmission highway, enabling vast deployment of renewables. Wind farms in Wyoming and solar farms in Arizona will serve load centers in the East.” Pathetic, appalling, despair-inducing how little he’s actually accomplished after all that lofty rhetoric — just like his boss. The Pacific Intertie uses decades-old 500kVDC technology to move power from Oregon to Los Angeles; modern 1MVDC technology loses **less than 3% power per 1000km**.

    We’ve built tens of thousands of miles of gas pipelines in this country during the same period in which we’ve build a few hundred miles of interstate transmission lines. We’ve vastly expanded rail capacity for carrying coal, while doing next to nothing about transmission capacity for low-cost renewables.

    Who do you hate more? The guys who deny there’s a problem, or the guys who know there’s a problem, who know the solution, but do nothing about it?