WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Wednesday moved to speed up permitting and construction of seven proposed electric transmission lines in 12 states, saying the projects would create thousands of jobs and help modernize the nation's power grid.
The projects are intended to serve as pilot demonstrations of streamlined federal permitting and improved cooperation among federal, state and tribal governments. The projects will provide more than 3,100 miles of new transmission lines in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In all, the projects are expected to create more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, help avoid blackouts, restore power more quickly when outages occur and reduce the need for new power plants, officials said.
"To compete in the global economy, we need a modern electricity grid," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. "An upgraded electricity grid will give consumers choices while promoting energy savings, increasing energy efficiency and fostering the growth of renewable energy resources."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the seven power lines being expedited under the pilot program will serve as important links across the country to increase the capacity and reliability of the nation's power grid.
"This is the kind of critical infrastructure we should be working together to advance in order to create jobs and move our nation toward energy independence," he said.
While the projects are being expedited, officials said it still could take several years before some of the transmission lines are completed. Federal permitting of a transmission line can take a decade or longer, with a host of agencies evaluating the project and its impacts.
"It's not superfast even when we speed it up," Lauren Azar, a senior adviser to Chu, told reporters Wednesday.
David DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities, and Ralph LaRossa, president of Public Service Electric and Gas. Co., which are teaming up to build a 145-mile transmission line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, applauded the administration's efforts. Their project and others should ensure that high-priority electric infrastructure projects are built and placed in service in a timely manner, the power executives said.
Pam Eaton, deputy vice president for public lands at The Wilderness Society, called the announcement a step forward, adding that responsibly-sited power lines could improve access to abundant renewable energy resources in the West while putting thousands of people to work.
"We are pleased to see the Obama administration taking action, but will still need to see decisions that will minimize impacts to valued lands," Eaton said.
Environmental groups said they were concerned that some of the proposed lines, including the Pennsylvania-to-New Jersey project, could expand traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas, rather than renewables.
Robert Thormeyer, a spokesman for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which represents state regulators, called the announcement a positive step.
"Generally we support anything the federal agencies can do to streamline their own processes, particularly in instances where the lines have already been approved by the states," he said.
The projects are:
_ A 500 kilovolt (kV), 300-mile transmission line proposed by Idaho Power in Oregon and Idaho.
_ 1,150 miles of high-voltage lines across Wyoming and Idaho.
_ A 210-mile, 500 kV line near Salem, Ore.
_ Two 500 kV transmission lines totaling 460 miles in Arizona and New Mexico.
_ A 700-mile, 600 kV transmission line in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. The project is intended to help develop new wind projects in Wyoming.
_ A 150-mile, 345 kV transmission line in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
_ A 145-mile, 500 kV transmission line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.