Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced award selections for $60 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support transmission planning for the country’s three interconnection transmission networks. The six awards will promote collaborative long-term analysis and planning for the Eastern, Western and Texas electricity interconnections, which will help states, utilities, grid operators and others prepare for future growth in energy demand, renewable-energy sources, and smart grid technologies. This represents the first-ever effort to take a collaborative, comprehensive look across each of the three transmission interconnections.

Chu also announced that he has joined with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff to sign a memorandum of understanding between the agencies to coordinate efforts related to interconnection-level electric transmission planning. The Department of Energy (DOE) will lead electricity-related research and development activities, including research and demonstrations for hardware and software technologies that help operate the country’s transmission networks. FERC will continue to oversee electricity reliability standards nationally and will enforce regulations to ensure that all transmission planning happens in an open, transparent and nondiscriminatory manner.

“The initiatives announced today will support collaborative planning efforts among a broad range of industry, government and third-party organizations,” Chu said. “This will ensure that we are effectively planning, building and strengthening the transmission networks the U.S. needs to operate a reliable, efficient and secure electricity system.”

The transmission infrastructure in the continental United States is separated into three distinct electrical networks—the Eastern, Western and Texas Interconnections. Portions of the Eastern and Western Interconnections also extend into Canada and Mexico. Within each interconnection, the addition of new electricity supply sources and the development of transmission needed to deliver electricity to consumers requires careful coordination to maintain the grid’s reliability while limiting costs and environmental impacts.

The transmission planning supported through these awards will develop an open, transparent and collaborative process that will involve participants from industry, federal, state and local government agencies, universities and nongovernmental organizations.

As a result of these planning efforts, each of the awardees will produce long-term resource and transmission planning studies in 2011, with updated documents in 2013. The knowledge and perspective gained from this work will inform policy and regulatory decisions in the years to come and provide critical information to electricity industry planners, states and others to develop a modernized, low-carbon electricity system.