DOE, WAPA: Stakeholders’ views vary on how to optimize transmission for the future

Representatives of the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint Outreach Team (JOT) delved into detail during a Sept. 7 webinar to recap the comments received during five stakeholder workshops and six listening sessions related to Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s “Defining the Future” initiative.

The purpose of the initiative, as stated in a March 16 memo from Chu, is to upgrade the transmission system within the country’s four power marketing administrations (PMAs).

Comments received from customers, stakeholders, and tribes during the workshops, listening sessions, and via e-mail, were divided into four categories: baseline issues, operations, planning, and transmission services.

“There was plenty of diversity of views. There was some very pitched disagreement,” WAPA consultant Dr. Carl Linvill said. Linvill is director of integrated energy analysis and planning with the Aspen Environmental Group and a former Nevada utility regulator.

Representatives were clear that they were introducing a sampling of the views received and, while the list was not comprehensive, they said they endeavored to capture and present recurring views.

In the area of baseline issues, customers, stakeholders and tribes agreed they could work together more effectively to define the baseline assumptions for studies of an energy imbalance market (EIM) for the WAPA region. All parties also agreed with the principle that beneficiaries should pay.

However, disagreements began to surface when discussion turned to specifics.

That disagreement got quite detailed when discussing technical topics, including whether 15-minute dispatch in an EIM was the appropriate time period. Parties also had differing opinions about what constituted a benefit, assigning a value to that benefit, and apportioning the cost of that value to determine how much the beneficiaries should pay.

To differing degrees, parties agreed with sentiment expressed by many during the workshops and listening sessions: WAPA is working well and is not in need of fixing.

Customers felt that WAPA’s 10-year planning horizon was adequate while stakeholders expressed a preference for WAPA getting involved in longer-term planning, including the10- and 20- year planning processes of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) and its subregions. Tribal interests indicated that their planning, by comparison, was extremely long-term, noting that culturally, they plan to “the 7th generation,” or approximately 140 years into the future.

Customers also said other agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, should be involved in future planning discussions.

Commenters seemed to agree generally that regional and subregional differences should be recognized and allowed for by DOE and WAPA, and that DOE and WAPA should ensure that any directives that result from the initiative do not conflict with state renewable and energy efficiency requirements.

Customers and stakeholders had different views about existing and future transmission services.

Customers said energy efficiency and demand-side management (DSM) issues are already being addressed and don’t need more attention from WAPA. They spoke in favor of reconsidering DOE’s 55-gallon limit on electric water heaters, noting that they could be an important energy storage resource. They also noted that plug-in electric vehicles were an urban issue, not particularly applicable to many of the rural expanses of the WAPA region.

Stakeholders expressed a greater concern for optimizing the use of existing transmission capacity. While noting that WAPA has obligations to its preference customers and transmission customers, stakeholders spoke in favor of utilizing existing transmission capacity and even saw it as a potential revenue-generating opportunity that could benefit customers. However, they noted, any optimization must be done in a way where it does no harm to customers.

Representatives were clear that the comments presented were not necessarily the recommendations that will be presented to Secretary Chu.

The panel will review the comments received and develop recommendations over the next several weeks.

“Those recommendations will include a ‘what, why, and how’ structure” that will quantify the value of each recommendation, Ron Moulton, transmission services manager for WAPA’s Rocky Mountain region, said.

The recommendations will consider the unique attributes of each region, appropriately coordinate with federal generating agencies, adhere to the principle of “beneficiary pays”, capture existing efforts that are working well, and consider limitations to WAPA’s authority.

A draft of the recommendations will be published in the Federal Register in November and will be followed by a public comment period. Final recommendations are expected to be sent to Chu in late December.