The U.S. Dept. of Energy has released a list of 10 high priority U.S. transmission projects set for special federal construction loans and quick permitting that include about 3,500 miles in areas of “urgent need” where consumers face higher power prices and longer power outages.

The projects were selected from DOE's national transportation needs study and designated as potential "national interest electric transmission corridors," which makes them eligible for $2 billion in funding through the Inflation Reduction Act and $2.5 billion for the agency to boost line completion by purchasing power for later resale to utilities.

To expedite and streamline construction, the Federal Power Act authorizes the agency to award the designation to any geographic area if consumers are harmed by a lack of transmission, particularly with major growth in U.S. renewable energy capacity, or if a new project would advance important national interests in the location. 

According to the American Clean Power Association, about 5.6 GW of renewables were installed in the first three months of 2024, a 28% rise from one year earlier, with U.S. clean energy capacity now at about 270GW, about 20% of total grid-scale power construction.

Six of the 10 potential projects are interregional and would connect eastern and western grids to ensure the grid reliability, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said. 

One five-mile-wide interregional corridor runs 780 miles from Indiana across Illinois, and Missouri to Kansas, with potential to enable linked transmission among the fast growing 13-state PJM grid in the east and midwest; the Midcontinent Independent System Operator in the upper midwest; and the Southwest Power Pool, DOE said. 

The corridor designation tracks along the route of one planned high-voltage, direct-current project called Grain Belt Express. The estimated $7 billion is proposed by Invenergy. a merchant developer, but has faced delays caused by local permitting difficulties. “This announcement is the last affirmation of the urgent need for interregional transmission investment,” Shashank Sane, Invenergy transmission executive vice president, told S&P Global.

Others designated corridors are set to connect PJM with the electric system in Ontario, Canada; and the Southwest Power Pool to tribal nations as well as to MISO in its southern region. Three potential corridors in the Northeast are among the smallest in area but "would address some infrastructure upgrade needs identified as most urgent," said attorneys at Foley Hoag.

The selection launches a comment period that closes June 24. At that point, DOE will begin environmental reviews, and consider reliability, congestion costs and expected future growth in corridors before announcing the final project list in the fall.

The Biden Administration last month issued new rules that make DOE the lead permitting agency for transmission project reviews under the federal National Environmental Policy Act, with a two year hard deadline for permit approval, Granholm said, with a government goal to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission in the next five years.

Another important step in transmission expansion by cutting red tape is Federal Energy Regulatory Commission backstop siting authority that is set for approval at a May 13 special transmission reform meeting.

The approval process "is fraught with challenges as utilities resist the paradigm shift away from centralized generation," said Jon Wellinghoff, former FERC chairman and chief regulatory officer of Voltus, a cloud-based startup platform to connect distributed energy resources. "Therefore this ruling could be paramount. I will be looking out for cost allocation for transmission lines and planning for inter-regional lines."