U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich
U.S. SENATE News:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Facilitating America’s Siting of Transmission and Electric Reliability (FASTER) Act.
The FASTER Act addresses key obstacles slowing down the siting, planning, and permitting process.
Currently, it can take up to a decade or more to build new high-voltage, interregional transmission lines. Fragmented state, local and federal jurisdiction over transmission siting, lack of coordination and communication between cooperating agencies, inadequate staff resources, failure to secure buy-in from local community stakeholders and incomplete applications are among the top factors slowing down interregional transmission development.
The FASTER Act builds upon the best practices established by Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act to expedite transmission siting and permitting practices, without compromising environmental standards. It provides certainty to transmission project developers, requires meaningful engagement with private landowners and delivers tangible economic benefits for local communities, states and counties.
“America’s demand for clean, reliable and affordable energy is growing. If we want to meet the full scale of this opportunity, we need to go further and faster. That does not mean greenlighting every project. It just means getting to a “yes” or a “no” in less than a decade – not a decade and a half,” Heinrich said. The FASTER Act builds on a number of best practices we’ve already learned from successful transmission projects — from simpler, coordinated agency reviews to early, meaningful local stakeholder engagement — that help to bring everybody on board in our transition to a clean energy future. This legislation is our opportunity to create good-paying jobs, meet our ambitious and urgent climate goals, and deliver affordable and reliable electricity to all Americans.”
The FASTER Act includes the following key provisions:
- Gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) siting authority and establishes it as the lead agency to coordinate state, local, and federal authorizations for National Interest Electric Transmission Facilities, defined as 345 kV or 750 MW, crosses two states, or a designation from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that the route proposed by a developer is consistent with the purpose of a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor.
- Requires FERC to approve or deny an application from initial pre-filing application to notice-to-proceed within five years.
- Incentivizes communities and project sponsors to negotiate an enforceable Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and ensures greater community engagement by developing clear protocols to help communities negotiate a CBA.
- Streamlines the grant application process for the Department of Energy’s $760 million Transmission Siting and Economic Development Grant program for communities that negotiate a CBA.
- Currently the Transmission Siting and Economic Development Grant (TSEDG) program is only available to states, counties, and tribes. Under FASTER, the CBA acts as a public-private partnership, allowing a project sponsor to apply for, on behalf of, or jointly with the CBA party.
- Allocates $532 million from the TSEDG program to fund economic development initiatives and provide direct support to communities that are among the most significantly impacted by project development, construction, or local operations activities.
- Allocates $228 million from the TSEDG program to fund state and county siting activities, such as analyzing the benefits of proposed interregional transmission.
- Directs transmission easement payments on Federal lands to counties, communities, and states: 25 percent to the state where development occurs, 25 percent to the counties of origin, 15 percent for the purposes of more efficiently processing permit applications and reducing the backlog of renewable energy permits, and 35 percent deposited into a fund for conservation purposes.
The FASTER Act has garnered widespread support from the power industry, construction trades labor unions, community stakeholder groups, and environmental organizations, including the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG), the Clean Energy Buyers Association (CEBA), Jobs to Move America, and Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
“Our lives and livelihoods depend on a robust and reliable electricity grid. Unfortunately, serious obstacles stand in the way of the grid we need to power a prosperous future. ACEG strongly supports Sen. Heinrich’s FASTER Act, which would accelerate the buildout of much-needed transmission by requiring good faith engagement with affected landowners and communities and dramatically improving the existing permitting processes. There is no time to waste when expanding our grid. This bill will help create better systems that avoid costly and time-consuming litigation, leading to better outcomes for all Americans,” Christina Hayes said, Executive Director of Americans for a Clean Energy Grid.
“The Clean Energy Buyers Association (CEBA), representing more than 400 companies and organizations, would like to thank Senator Heinrich for his work on the Facilitating America’s Siting of Transmission and Electric Reliability Act of 2023 (FASTER Act of 2023),” Bryn Baker said, CEBA’s senior Director of Market and Policy Innovation. “The FASTER Act
“This bill contains strong language requiring enforceable community benefits agreements between transmission line developers and the communities they will be impacting. Community benefits agreements are a powerful tool to ensure that communities share in the rewards of big developments in their area and are a way of holding developers accountable to meeting their needs. When done correctly, as this bill encourages, they can be a win-win for all involved in the agreement,” Miranda Nelson said, National Director at Jobs to Move America.
“Community based organizations play an important role in representing low and underserved communities that are at the forefront of development projects,” Marcela Díaz said, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “CBAs create a partnership that gives frontline communities an opportunity to engage with the development process while creating accountability. This bill would provide an opportunity for a substantial increase in workforce development and economic opportunities in our communities.”
“CBA’s are an opportunity for rural communities like mine in Southeastern, New Mexico, who are excluded from policy decisions that impact our communities, the local workforce, and our economy,” Maria Romano said, a Lea County Community Organizer for Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “I’m excited to see how CBA’s will ensure accountability between the community and developers. I also want to see development that is equitable and benefits all members of the community, eventually creating stronger local economies.”