Western governors given tools to reduce cost of integrating renewable resources

A report previewed at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) meeting in Cle Elum, Wash., detailed steps the region’s governors can support that would help facilitate the integration of renewable energy while having the least impact on the area’s utility customers.

“It’s more of an action plan and less of a report,” Linda Davis of the WGA told TransmissionHub following the June 10 session where the plan was introduced to governors’ staff members and others. “It’s a list of steps we believe the governors can get behind and support to help make renewable integration less expensive.”

The steps are intended as “things states could encourage their utilities to adopt” when doing resource planning, according to Lisa Schwartz of the Regulatory Assistance Project, one of the groups that helped develop the report.

The report emphasized that the region’s transmission grid needs to be made more flexible. It cited five general categories to help achieve that goal: a need for greater institutional flexibility, a more flexible generating fleet, demand response, improved forecasting and a more flexible transmission system.

Specific to institutional flexibility, the report said utilities in the West need to adopt generation and transmission dispatch intervals that are considerably shorter than the hourly intervals prevalent among western utilities. Participants in the overview session were told that, other than in the California ISO, western utilities use hourly dispatch exclusively, while utilities in other parts of the country dispatch on five-minute intervals.

“Having a faster energy dispatch and shorter intervals for transmission, and to be able to change those over time as you have better information would really help reduce the cost [of renewable integration] for consumers,” Schwartz said.

Siting generation over larger geographic areas than employed today would help net out the changes in load and generation, also making renewable energy integration less expensive, she said. In addition, dynamic transfers between balancing areas could be employed to a greater degree than they are now. However, Schwartz acknowledged that constraints in certain areas limit the existing transfer ability and noted that additional transmission investments would be needed to relieve those constraints.

The report also recommended establishing an energy imbalance market in the West. Such a market, especially in view of the current hourly scheduling, would offer what Schwartz termed “tremendous savings for customers.”

Improved forecasting, and “doing a better job of applying those improved forecasts to energy and transmission scheduling,” was also cited as a way to make better use of the existing transmission capacity, thus making renewable energy less expensive.

Other recommendations included a call for a more flexible generating fleet, both for existing facilities that might need to be upgraded as well as for new generating plants. Demand response programs were also mentioned with the qualification that using automation technologies would enable utilities to make the best advantage of those programs.

Finally, more energy storage is needed, from existing pumped hydro to new technologies including high-tech batteries, compressed air storage and plug-in electric vehicles, Schwartz said.

“We also have to improve the way we manage reserves,” she said, noting that reserves held for regulation are the most expensive and even a small reduction in those reserves would yield large dividends.

The final report will include action steps that would enable cost reduction, as well as recommendations that can be done to overcome existing barriers to renewables integration.

The final report will divide the recommended actions into categories that quantify the ease of accomplishing each action item; whether the benefits would be small, medium, or large; and whether the cost of each action item would be below $10m, from $10m to $100m, or above $100m across the western U.S. region.

The final report will be made public after it is formally presented to the governors on June 11.