A US Department of Energy advisory panel has reported that the US transmission system is in serious need of improvement. It has recommended that the department identify transmission bottlenecks and provide a permitting fast track that could help improve reliability and save costs by expanding or upgrading the grid.

A subcommittee of DoE’s Electricity Advisory Board compiled the draft report, drawing from a grid study released in May. Under its recommendations, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) could approve applications for new transmission facilities if a permitting authority failed to act on a pending application within 12 months, and if the transmission facility would alleviate a DoE-identified bottleneck. The idea depends on industry participants coming forward with proposed solutions. If Congress were to passe the suggested legislation, the prospects for voluntary proposals would be enhanced considerably because, in the DOE’s words, “applicants will have a much higher degree of confidence that a project will not get bogged down in endless permitting problems, which is often the case today.” The subcommittee said that it expected FERC to require applicants to include a detailed cost-benefit analysis of any proposed solution, as well as of alternative solutions, including transmission, generation and demand-side options.

The subcommittee also supported the creation of regional transmission organisations (RTOs) as a way of improving transmission system operations, increasing regulatory certainty, and encouraging investment. However, the subcommittee was concerned that too much faith was being put in RTOs’ capacity to solve problems they were neither designed nor equipped to handle. Those included transmission facility planning and siting, allocation of costs among RTO customers for existing and new facilities, and infrastructure investment. Defraying the cost of new or upgraded transmission facilities should be determined by deciding who caused the system to incur increased costs and who would benefit from the improvements, the report said.