Round-up of renewable energy matters, including on West Coast

As TransForum West, to take place July 16-17 in San Diego, approaches, TransmissionHub presents a round-up on renewable energy news and happenings, from President Barack Obama wanting the federal government to use 20% renewable energy within the next few years, as well as the California Energy Commission approving new rules to help publicly owned utilities achieve the state’s 33% renewable energy target by 2020.

More information about TransForum West can be found here. A July 16 panel will focus on connecting renewables to the Western grid, focusing on such questions as, what is the current state of the industry and how does it affect transmission and transmission planning?

President Obama wants federal government to use 20% renewable energy

President Barack Obama said on June 25 that he wants the federal government to use 20% renewable energy for its electricity within the next few years.

He also said he plans to have the Environmental Protection Agency draft CO2 emissions rules for existing fossil power plants in 2015, and have the United States discontinue its public financing for most coal plants in other countries – unless they are equipped with CO2 capture technology.

Obama outlined a variety of goals but did not offer a litany of details on how the nation would shave its annual CO2 emissions significantly.

Obama praised everything from state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), new nuclear plants being built in the Southeast, natural gas power generation and renewable energy commitments by companies like retail giant Walmart.

He said he was calling on federal agencies such as the Interior Department and the Department of Defense to “double again” the amount of electricity coming from sources like wind and solar power by 2020.

Obama stressed the importance of “using less dirty energy; using more clean energy [and] wasting less energy throughout our economy.” He said that nearly 40% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from power plants.

Currently, such emissions occur “free,” and that has to stop, Obama said. EPA must “put an end to limitless carbon pollution from our power plants,” he said.

On energy use, the federal government has to lead by example, Obama said. “Your federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources within the next seven years.”

AWEA: Maintaining favorable transmission cost allocation policies ‘will be critical’

Creating stable policies for wind energy helps to further transmission development for wind as it allows transmission planners to have more certainty about the amount of wind energy that will be built and what new transmission infrastructure will be required, according to Michael Goggin, senior electric industry analyst with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). 

“[M]aintaining favorable transmission cost allocation policies and working with states, and in some cases federal entities, to make sure that needed transmission lines move expeditiously through the siting process will be critical,” Goggin told TransmissionHub on May 24.

AWEA has filed comments on numerous regional compliance filings that have been submitted to FERC as part of Order 1000, he said.

“In part due to the ongoing transmission expansion that has been driven by adoption of workable transmission cost allocation policies in many critical regions, transmission is no longer the wind industry’s biggest barrier,” Goggin said. “The lack of stable policies for wind energy has emerged as the biggest barrier. While many other energy sources enjoy permanent tax incentives, some of which have been in place for almost a century, wind energy’s production tax credit [(PTC)] is typically only extended for one or two years at a time. Correcting that by securing a long-term extension of the wind energy production tax credit is the wind industry’s number one goal.”

The American Taxpayer Relief Act, passed by Congress on Jan. 1, and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 2, includes an extension of the PTC for projects that start construction before Jan. 1, 2014; an extension of the investment tax credit for projects that start construction before Jan. 1, 2014; and an extension of bonus depreciation for projects that are placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014.

“[T]oday, really, the number one priority is the policy uncertainty,” Peter Kelley, vice president for public affairs for AWEA, told TransmissionHub on May 23.

New rules approved in California to help POUs achieve renewable target

The California Energy Commission on June 12 approved new rules to help publicly owned utilities (POUs) achieve the state’s 33% renewable energy target by 2020.

The new regulations establish the rules and procedures that the commission will use to assess the actions of the state’s 45 POUs and determine whether those actions meet the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) procurement requirements.

The proposed regulations require the POUs to submit plans, reports, and other information so the commission can verify and determine compliance with the RPS.

Legislation enacted in 2011 (Senate Bill X1-2) also established three renewable energy compliance periods that requires the utilities to meet an average of 20% of retail sales from eligible renewable resources from January 2011 through December 2013, 25% by the end of 2016, 33% by the end of 2020, and no less than 33% in all subsequent years.

The commission said it recently launched a tool that tracks the progress towards achieving the RPS and highlights the POU renewable procurement forecasts from 2011 through 2020. The data is self-reported to the commission by the POUs and will be verified after the conclusion of each compliance period.

The largest POUs in California that have forecasted meeting the first compliance target of 20% for 2011-2013 include Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

‘State of Energy in the West’ report cites lack of transmission capacity

The “State of Energy in the West” report issued by the Western Governors Association (WGA) on June 28 repeatedly cited the lack of transmission capacity and the difficulties of developing new transmission as impediments to the development and incorporation of new sources of energy but stopped short of making concrete recommendations about how to correct those shortfalls.

The report made numerous statements about the benefits of transmission and the need for additional transmission to connect what it called “abundant” new projects for gas and renewable generation, as well as other benefits of a robust transmission system.

“Transmission lines facilitate the efficient exchange of energy between regions, taking advantage of daily and seasonal diversities,” WGA said in the report. “This reduces the amount of new power plants that need to be built and helps keep rates low.”

However, the report also highlighted the difficulty of siting transmission projects, and made reference to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which indicated that the majority of the 17,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines currently planned at the national level may not be completed due to permitting obstacles.

The governors’ report also made reference to the consequences of those impediments to the addition of new transmission.

“The current lack of transmission hinders the ability to move the generation to load centers, which in turn hinders construction and increases costs to consumers. It also results in a more vulnerable, less flexible and resilient grid,” WGA said.

The association also noted that the best wind energy is located in “isolated expanses of Western prairie land,” which presents difficulties in connecting to the grid.

Benefits, challenges associated with solar energy maturing

In recent years solar energy has matured into a real industry – and that’s good and bad, according to speakers at the Solar 2013 conference on April 19 in Baltimore, sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society.

On one hand, solar is generating more electricity, employing more people and making deeper inroads into the energy sector than ever before. On the other hand, solar manufacturers are starting to undergo dramatic consolidation and also experience pushback from what one panelist dubbed “old world energy.”

That was the assessment of a panel that included Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch and Standard Solar CEO Tony Clifford.

On one level this is the best of times, Resch said. In 2012 the solar power market experienced a 76% growth in the United States, installation more than 3.3 GW of solar photovoltaic.

“There are more states with significant markets” for renewable energy now, Resch said.

He pointed to examples like BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah complex as one of the “huge” solar projects coming online. “But the manufacturers are facing a very difficult time,” Resch said.

Issues from industry consolidation to expiration of certain renewable tax credits to the public images problems created by the Solyndra failure are making life more complicated Resch said.

Consolidation is happening now, Clifford said.

“We are going to get down to 10 or 20 corporations” that do most solar component manufacturing, Clifford said.

“In terms of a shakeout, there are a few more shoes to drop in 2013,” he added.

Others said that large corporations are spearheading efforts to water down or eliminate renewable portfolio standards across the nation. Large utilities reluctance to embrace net metering is also a concern for solar power, panelists said.

Solar facility in California needs three transmission projects

Construction of the proposed Westlands solar park on 24,000 acres of farmland near Fresno, Calif., will require the construction of three new transmission segments to accommodate the facility’s anticipated maximum output of 2,400 MW of solar generation.

According to the notice of preparation of a draft environmental impact report (EIR), the Westlands Water District, headquartered in Fresno, Calif., will study three transmission corridors as it prepares the EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The water district is the lead agency preparing the EIR.

The additional transmission lines, comprising three segments of new transmission to upgrade one existing pathway and create two additional pathways to export the solar power, would be built as needed as the generation projects progress, a spokesperson for the water district told TransmissionHub on April 1.

New transmission to be studied will include an 11-mile, 230-kV transmission line running parallel to the existing Henrietta-Gates transmission corridor, connecting a new substation planned for construction near the project’s northern boundary and running southward to the Gates substation near the project’s southern boundary. The new transmission line could run along either the north or the south side of the existing corridor, and both alternatives will be analyzed in the EIR, according to the notice of preparation. A longer stretch of new transmission would upgrade central California’s critical Path 15.

A new 500-kV transmission line would extend approximately 87 miles from the Gates substation to the Los Banos substation near the city of Los Banos, Calif. The new transmission line would run generally parallel to the existing Path 15 corridor from the Gates substation to a point near the city of Huron, Calif., where it would turn north through the project area to connect with the Helm substation. From the Helm substation, it would turn west and follow alongside the existing Panoche-Helm transmission corridor to rejoin Path 15 about four miles south of the Pacheco substation. From there, the alignment would run adjacent to Path 15 to the Los Banos substation.

The third project would create the Helm to Gregg transmission corridor with a new 500-kV line extending approximately 31 miles to connect the Helm substation near the city of San Joaquin to the Gregg substation located north of Fresno. In addition to providing a pathway for power from the new solar project, this transmission corridor is intended to provide for the growing electrical demand in the Fresno area and would also facilitate the transmission of adequate power to the upstream Helms Pumping Plant to allow the utilization of the full potential of the facility for pumped storage, according to the notice of preparation.

All the substations involved are operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG).

BLM refines preferred route for SunZia

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has refined its preferred route for the proposed SunZia Southwest transmission project, with a route detailed in the final environmental impact statement (EIS) that is some 15 miles shorter than the route in the draft EIS issued more than a year ago, according to the Notice of Availability (NoA) that provides official notice that the final EIS and proposed resource management plan (RMP) amendments for the project have been published.

The lengths of the route alternatives the BLM considered for both the draft and final EIS documents ranged from about 460 to 530 miles.

The BLM’s preferred alternative route in the final EIS, which includes some modifications to the route in the draft EIS, is approximately 515 miles in length compared to a 530 mile route in the draft document.

BLM estimates that about 185 miles, or 36%, of the right-of-way for the preferred route is located on federal lands administered by four BLM field offices in New Mexico, as well as federal lands administered by two BLM field offices in Arizona.

The BLM preferred route would cross about 135 miles of federal lands in New Mexico and 50 miles of federal lands in Arizona. About 273 miles of the BLM preferred alternative route would fall within designated utility corridors.

The route was selected after considering issues and impacts identified during the project’s scoping period, including effects on wildlife habitat, migratory birds, bighorn sheep, cultural resources and archeological sites, Native American traditional properties, and viewsheds, among other factors.

Progress made on transmission upgrades in SoCal

Progress is being made on more than a half-dozen upgrades to the transmission system in Southern California that are intended to help address supply adequacy issues that could result from Southern California Edison’s (SCE) June 7 decision not to reopen the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

On the heels of SCE’s announcement, officials with the California ISO (Cal-ISO) made the prediction that the state as a whole would be in “reasonably good shape this summer, even without SONGS’ 2,200 MW of generating capacity, except in southern Orange County and in San Diego, where Cal-ISO expected transmission constraints to result in challenges to importing the power needed.

The projects, many of which are aimed at alleviating those constraints, were presented to the ISO’s board of governors in February and have either been completed or are nearing completion by the various companies and utilities involved.

Projects include the conversion of Huntington Beach generating units 3 and 4 into synchronous condensers.

Cal-ISO CEO Steve Berberich said on June 7 those condensers are scheduled to come online on June 26, ahead of the above-average temperatures some are already forecasting for the area during July and August.

System upgrades include additions to several substations. Additional 80 MVAR capacitors at SCE’s Santiago and Johanna substations and a 160 MVAR capacitor at the Viejo substation are operational.

Two San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) substations will also see enhancements. A 230/138 kV transformer will be added to the utility’s Encina substation just south of San Onofre and a 230 kV capacitor will be added to its Penasquitos substation this summer.

Other system upgrades, including the 2012 energization of the Sunrise PowerLink, have already increased SDG&E’s import capacity from 2,100 MW on June 17, 2012, to 3,350 MW today, an SDG&E spokesperson told TransmissionHub June 12.

According to TransmissionHub data, the Sunrise Powerlink is a 117-mile 500-kV transmission line designed to carry renewable energy from El Centro to San Diego, Calif. The project includes a 6.2-mile, 230-kV segment and a new 500-kV substation. The projected project cost is estimated at $1.9bn.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3231 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at