Building a 21st Century Electric Grid

As part of President Obama’s initiative to make America a magnet for jobs by building a 21st century infrastructure, today he signed a Presidential Memorandum that will speed the modernization of the nation’s electric grid. This will help make electricity more reliable, save consumers money on their energy bills, and support homegrown American clean energy jobs and industries by making renewable energy easier to access across the country.

Transmission projects often cover hundreds of miles and involve multiple federal, tribal, state and local jurisdictions with diverse interests and responsibilities. Collaborating early to minimize duplication and delays is vital to getting critical projects to construction to better serve American homes and businesses. Today’s Presidential Memorandum directs federal agencies to create an integrated pre-application process across the Federal government to help identify and address issues before the formal permit application process begins, and streamline the coordination of permitting processes across the federal, state, and tribal governments.

The memorandum also directs agencies to identify and improve the use of energy corridors on federal lands that are most suitable for siting electric transmission projects, to help expedite permitting while improving environmental and community outcomes. These energy corridors are designed to reduce regulatory conflicts, minimize negative impacts on natural and cultural resources, and address concerns of local communities, decreasing the potential for permitting delays. For these corridors, agencies will work together to integrate new and innovative ways to avoid, minimize and mitigate the impact on environmental and cultural resources. The memorandum also prioritizes meaningful engagement with stakeholders and the public to arrive at the best quality projects with the least conflicts and most support.

These steps build on the best practices identified by the Administration’s interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission, which since 2011 has brought together Federal agencies to identify ways to improve efficiencies and coordination in the permitting and review processes for transmission projects.

Upgrading our nation’s electric transmission grid is critical to advancing the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to build an economy fueled by homegrown and clean energy sources produced by American workers. With the help of the Administration’s unprecedented investments in clean energy, we have already met the bold goal the President laid out in 2008 to double renewable energy generation in this country. Improving our electrical transmission grid will make electricity more reliable, save consumers money, improve U.S. competitiveness, and move us a step closer to achieving the President’s goal of doubling domestic renewable electricity again by 2020. 

Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. Sally Jewell is Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Tom Vilsack is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ernest Moniz is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy


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