The U.S. Interior Dept. took steps to move ahead $2.5 billion of proposed NV Energy transmission line projects in Nevada, but ratepayer cost concerns are rising. The projects are meant to increase renewable energy development in the state.

The agency on May 25 released the draft environmental impact statement for the 285-mile Greenlink West project from Las Vegas to Reno. It also said it was beginning environmental review of the 358-mile Greenlink North project from Reno to Robinson Summit.

When completed, the two lines will link with the One Nevada 525-kV line already in service from Robinson Summit to Las Vegas. The triangular transmission network also is expected to improve grid reliability.

A 90-day public comment period is open for Greenlink West, with Interior set to release a record of decision by late next year for the project, which is expected to come online in December 2026. A 30-day scoping and public comment period for Greenlink North is underway to issue a draft environmental planning document later this year. The project is expected to come online in December 2028.

Each undertaking has the potential to unlock 4 GW of renewable energy. 

While noting that siting, permitting and financing is difficult for such long transmission lines, Laura Daniel Davis, Interior principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, told a media briefing that “the time to act on climate change is now.” 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also approved three incentives to encourage construction by allowing costs to be recovered from ratepayers before the projects come on line, despite objections from some consumers who argued that the work would increase the cost of power. 

“The incentives package as a whole addresses the risks and challenges faced by NV Energy in undertaking the project,” FERC said in its order.

Commissioner Mark Christie concurred, but wants FERC to revisit the incentive packages considering rising transmission construction costs. He said incentives should be “revisited” to ensure all costs and risks associated with transmission construction are not unfairly inflicted on consumers while developers and owners stand to gain financial reward. 

Carolyn Barbash, NV Energy vice president of transmission development and policy, defended the incremental price hikes, but the state consumer protection bureau also seeks a FERC rehearing on the issue.

Transmission Low-Keyed in Debt Limit Bill

The approvals come as compromise legislation reached May 28 between the White House and congressional Republicans to raise the U.S. debt ceiling until Jan. 1, 2025 contained measures to accelerate energy project permitting but not transmission expansion.

The bill, if voted on by the House and Senate, would expedite outstanding permits need by the nearly complete $6.6-billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline and order that "no court shall have jurisdiction" to challenge those, citing the line as "in the national interest."

The legislation authorizes an 18-month study of U.S. power transmission needs and challenges by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., with FERC launching a year of public comment before Congress gets recommendations for rulemaking. 

Despite more discussion on energy project permit reform, clean energy supporters had advocated for stronger measures in the debt bill to enable more grid connection projects to get underway. Some called for requirements to have new regional grid interconnections to enable transfers of a certain amount of power load during peak periods.

“Absent significant improvements in the siting and construction of new clean power transmission capabilities, our nation will fail to achieve critical economic, national security and climate goals,” said Jason Grumet, CEO of American Clean Power Association.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said “this issue really is not well understood in the Congress,” claiming need “to begin laying the groundwork to better understand how you can cause interoperability” among U.S. power grids.