Southern California Edison Asks FERC to Step into Arizona Transmission Siting Dispute

In the first test of the "backstop" transmission siting authority given to FERC in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), Southern California Edison (SCE) recently discussed with FERC staff the siting of a 230-mile, 500 kV transmission line from the Palo Verde nuclear plant near Phoenix, Arizona to Devers, California, near Palm Springs (known as the Palo Verde-Devers II Line).  SCE representatives met with FERC staffers to begin a "pre-filing" consultation process in advance of filing an application for FERC to approve the proposed siting of the line. 

California covets the line as a means to bring more power into the state, and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the line.  However, SCE's plans hit a obstacle at the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).  The ACC rejected SCE's application in May 2007, stating it refused to allow SCE to plug a "230-mile extension cord" into Arizona's generation supply.  The ACC found the line would cost Arizona ratepayers $242 million, could have detrimental environmental impacts, and would significantly reduce available generation in the state, which has a rapidly growing population. 

Arizona's rejection of the line will test the extent of FERC's authority under the national interest electric transmission corridors (NIETC) provisions of EPAct 2005.  Under these provisions, Congress gave FERC authority for the first time to approve, in certain circumstances, the siting of transmission lines in areas of congestion, designated as NIETCs by the US Department of Energy.  These circumstance include when a state public utility commission has "withheld approval for more than 1 year" after a siting application is filed.  In a controversial 2006 rulemaking decision, FERC interpreted the word "withheld" in the statute to mean "deny," indicating that FERC believes it has authority to approve siting of a transmission line even when a state has rejected the line.  This order has been appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Following the meeting with SCE, FERC emphasized that no application has yet been filed.  FERC also contacted the CPUC and ACC to inform them of the meeting and seek their input as to whether FERC has authority in this case.  If SCE eventually files an application, FERC will review the records developed before the CPUC and ACC, coordinate actions required by federal law, including federal environmental review, and conduct an independent evaluation.  FERC must issue a decision within one year of the filing of the application.