Communities and Landowners Express Transmission Concerns from the Ground Up

We spend a lot of time talking about transmission policy at the Center. The reason we care so much about these infrastructure projects is because we support renewable energy and new economic development opportunities in rural areas. Electric transmission is incredibly important to developing renewables, especially in rural areas that often have some of the best renewable potential.

Our transmission system wasn’t built to handle energy development in these areas, and this creates a problem. There is high demand and benefit for using renewable energy, but it’s hard to deliver that energy.

New transmission projects can offer a solution by updating the electric grid to handle new renewable energy development. But they can become quite complicated. They often span several states and are governed by state and federal regulations that require extensive study of the impacts and need for projects.

The other thing that makes improving transmission infrastructure a complicated issue is the fact that developers can rarely use existing paths – often easements that have already been acquired for roads or other infrastructure projects – for the entirety of a transmission project route.

Communities and landowners play a big part in the regulatory process of these projects, especially when it comes to routing. They rightly have concerns, and they seek answers from regulators and developers. Opponents, supporters, developers, and regulators all meet and hopefully confront these concerns.

Although many advocates follow transmission policy and regulations that surround it, the issues of communities and landowners are not studied as thoroughly. It’s important not to overlook this particular area of transmission policy. Addressing these issues properly makes and breaks projects. Bad experiences early on will plague developers throughout the life of a project.

Recently, we released a report that focused on these issues. It highlights community concerns over transmission projects, using real accounts and interviews to help flesh out the many facets of these issues. The report is called From the Ground Up: Addressing Key Community Concerns in Clean Energy Transmission.

Using local media sources from different states, we examined coverage of transmission project events, and looked at the reactions from the communities affected by these projects. From these sources, six common issue areas emerged:

  • Effects of transmission development on agriculture
  • Conservation
  • Health
  • Use of eminent domain for transmission development
  • Need for transmission projects
  • Fairness relating to the dealings people have with transmission developers

Despite some good beginning steps from developers in the past year – new payment options being offered by developers, agreements on mitigating impacts to agriculture and other areas during construction – analysis of these local media sources showed quite a bit of room for improvement. It was clear that a primary problem is that developers do not communicate as openly or frequently as many community members desire.

The main recommendations from the report focus on this need for increased communication between developers, landowners, and communities. Not just more opportunities for communication, but also improving the quality of the various forms of outreach developers use. Providing more opportunities for people to engage in these projects helps to increase their impact on the project, allowing them to work with developers to address their concerns.

It was also clear that transparency was a prime concern of many. Fair dealings and giving an equal chance to be heard to all parties is essential for the regulatory process surrounding transmission lines. Developers absolutely have to be at their best when it comes to either one.

From our media analysis, it’s clear that developers have to go out of their way to communicate as often and as openly as possible. Making the process transparent and seeking compromises whenever possible is an immediate step they can take to improve communication. Working towards these goals and adopting new methods to address the concerns of landowners is essential. It not only makes each individual project better, but also improves the regulatory process around transmission as a whole.

Improving the transmission grid in the Midwest isn’t a quick or easy task. It’s a process that will take years and should involve as much interaction between developers and stakeholders as possible. It is vital that advocates for transmission and the developers themselves do their best to confront these concerns and find ways to fix problems as they arise.

Better infrastructure for energy is important to the future of renewable energy, but it has to be done in partnership with stakeholders. The insight that landowners and local communities can offer should be invaluable to developers, and they must take every step to get that insight.

Innovation is key – we have to start thinking about these problems and the process of addressing them differently. It is essential that transmission development be done the right way. That will require developers and regulators to adapt to old and new issues surrounding projects.

You can find a link to the report here.