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Corps in New England explores funding agreement with National Grid to expedite permit applications

Published Dec. 6, 2016

Release No. 2016-116

   CONCORD, Mass. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District announces the preliminary intent to accept and expend funds from National Grid to expedite processing of their Department of Army permit applications in New England subject to certain limitations. New England Power Company, Massachusetts Electric Company, Nantucket Electric Company, Narragansett Electric Company, Boston Gas Company, Colonial Gas Company, New England Electric Transmission Corporation, New England Hydro-Transmission Electric Company, Inc., and New England Hydro-Transmission Corporation, are all doing business as National Grid (collectively “National Grid”) and fall under this proposal.


The Corps in New England has issued a public notice on this proposal with comments due to the Corps by Dec. 21, 2016. Sec. 214 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, as amended, provides: “The Secretary, after public notice, may accept and expend funds contributed by a non-Federal public entity or a public utility company or natural gas company to expedite the evaluation of a permit of that entity or company related to a project or activity for a public purpose under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army.”


The authority to accept and expend funds from public utility companies and natural gas companies expires on June 10, 2021, unless otherwise extended or revoked by law. The Corps must ensure that Section 214 funding agreements will not impact impartial decision-making by the Corps or adversely affect the timeline for evaluation of the DA permit applications or other entities. The Corps Regulatory Program is funded as a Congressionally-appropriated line item in the annual Federal budget. Additional funds received from National Grid would be used to augment the budget of the Corps in accordance with the provisions of Section 214. The Corps would establish a separate account to track the receipt and expenditure of the funds.


National Grid is required to provide reliable electric and gas service under standards determined by a variety of Federal, regional and state regulatory bodies and in accordance with the New England Independent System Operator (ISO New England) reliability standards. Maintenance of existing energy infrastructure is critical to providing reliable service. With over 2,800 miles of electric transmission, 16,000 miles of electric distribution and 17,800 miles of gas distribution lines and related facilities, work to maintain these critical assets is ongoing. In addition, construction of new electric and gas infrastructure is necessary to meet demand, enhance reliability, and interconnect new generation, including renewable generation projects.


National Grid’s work often requires permits from the Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. Over the last couple of years, the number of National Grid projects requiring Department of Army permits has increased substantially and National Grid expects that these higher levels will continue for the foreseeable future.


Department of Army permits can be the final permitting hurdle for National Grid projects and timely issuance by the Corps is critical to successful management of National Grid’s public utility assets. For example, National Grid often has narrow windows of time to perform electric project construction work because the lines must be de-energized (“outages”). These outages must be scheduled in advance through ISO-NE, along with other scheduled electric transmission projects in the region. If permits are not obtained on time, then a project would be delayed until the next available outage, which could be years.


The Corps and National Grid believe that a dedicated project manager will be able to develop expertise in the types of projects performed by National Grid which will improve the efficiency of the review. As a result, based on past experience and the volume of expected work going forward, funding a full-time Corps reviewer for National Grid projects will result in an expedited review process for National Grid projects. Funds would be expended primarily for labor and overhead of Regulatory Division staff processing DA permit applications.  


To ensure the funds will not impact impartial decision-making, the following procedures would be applied: funds would not be expended for review of project manager’s work by supervisors or other persons in the decision-making chain of command; all final permit decisions for cases where these funds are used must be reviewed at least one level above the normal decision maker, unless the decision maker is the District Commander; the application must comply with all applicable laws and regulations and the Corps will not eliminate any procedures or decisions that would otherwise be required for the type of project and permit application under consideration; funds from this agreement will not be used for enforcement activities; funds from this agreement will not be used for public hearings and distribution of public notices; and all final permit decisions where these funds are expended will be made available on the Corps headquarters webpage.


Following the review of comments received, the New England District Commander will determine if acceptance and expenditure of the funds is in compliance with Section 214. If the Commander determines, after considering public comments, that the acceptance and expenditure of funds is in compliance with Section 214 and is not otherwise contrary to the public interest, the New England District will proceed to accept and expend such funds from National Grid. Funds will be accepted only if the public interest is better served through cost-effectiveness, enhanced evaluation capability, streamlined permit application processing, or other appropriate justification. A final public notice will be issued regarding the Commander’s decision.  


The public notice, with more specifics on the proposal, can be viewed on the Corps website at www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx.


Public comments on this proposal should be forwarded no later than Dec. 21, 2016 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Regulatory Division (ATTN: Greg Penta), 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742-2751. Additional information is available from Permit Project Manager Greg Penta at 978-318-8862 or toll free 800-343-4789 or 800-362-4367 (if calling from within Massachusetts) or by email to: gregory.r.penta@usace.army.mil.

Tim Dugan

Release no. 16-054