As utilities spend billions on transmission, calls grow for independent monitoring


An aging electric grid, fossil fuel power plant retirements and a massive renewable electricity buildout are all contributing to a boom in transmission and distribution wire projects by electric utilities across the country, Louisiana Illuminator reports.

In 2020, investor-owned electric utilities spent $25 billion on transmission, up from $23.7 billion in 2019, figures that the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric companies, expect only to grow going forward.

But much of that spending is happening on local projects in states with widely differing regulatory regimes. And there’s been growing concern at the state and federal level that too much of it is occurring without enough transparency and oversight to ensure transmission owners are appropriately planning for new technology, considering more cost-effective regional approaches or alternate solutions and not ripping off their ratepayers.

“There’s going to be a significant amount of transmission built,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick said at a Nov. 15 meeting of a joint federal and state task force on electric transmission. “We need to make sure consumers get the best bang for their buck.”

The meeting came more than a month after a FERC technical conference during which electric utility regulators and consumer counsel from a wide variety of states said, to varying degrees, that they often lacked the authority, information and expertise to properly vet and oversee the rising number of transmission projects happening in their states.

That’s led to growing support for the idea of an independent monitor to examine the need, costs and planning behind the wave of new projects to protect customers and ensure utilities—for whom transmission spending and the return on equity it comes with is a major profit stream—are looking beyond their own narrow financial interests.

Not everyone, of course, is on board.

Electric companies and transmission owners see it as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, and even some utility regulators say it’s a job best left to states. Read the full story from Louisiana Illuminator here.