More state, regional coordination needed in transmission planning – panelists

As the U.S. energy mix evolves and more renewable energy is brought online as coal generation retires, more coordination is needed between states and regional transmission organizations to plan transmission as efficiently as possible, according to panelists at the Great Plains Clean Energy Transmission Summit on Oct. 21.

Over 60% of energy is lost over the entire energy system, according to Rolf Nordstrom, executive director of Great Plains Institute.

“We have an enormous amount of efficiency still to wring out of the system in combined heat and power and waste heat recovery – [there] is just almost unfathomable opportunity there,” Nordstrom said. “[E]ven if we have a lot more distributed generation, transmission is still the factor for unleashing vast amounts of wind.”

Though he said Order 1000 would be helpful in furthering coordinated efforts, states should still undertake more proactive planning processes that involve their neighbors.

“One thing that could really help a lot is if states could get together and better harmonize and coordinate at least some element of the way they do [planning and] siting,” he said. “There’s probably a half a dozen studies and reports about how that could make the whole process more efficient [and] less costly.”

The Midwest, in large part the Midcontinent ISO (MISO), has been successful in building out transmission in part because of the types of entities involved in seeking a consensus, Beth Soholt, executive director for Wind on the Wires said. States farther east have not been so lucky.

“Eastern states have had more difficulty coalescing … around policy for clean energy, getting a clear vision of what the infrastructure needs are vis a vis their renewable energy policies,” Soholt said. “They don’t have uniformity of vision on how to approach the infrastructure piece.”

By contrast, the Midwest has benefited from non-governmental organizations working with businesses and utilities, which has “enabled us to have a lot of dialogue and consensus on what the infrastructure should look like,” she added.

One example of such coordination includes CapX2020, a series of transmission lines built out by a coalition of 11 investor-owned utilities, municipals and cooperatives.

“Whenever you have a nexus of a supportive regulatory environment and policy environment and a utility with the willingness to invest and build … if you’ve got that nexus coming together then you’re able to get the investment going, move it through the process and get it done,” Teresa Mogensen, vice president of transmission for Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) said.

One of the challenges the states farther east is having is determining where to get their renewable energy : should they import it from the Midwest or build offshore wind farms?

“The bloom is coming off the offshore rose,” Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy Partners, said. “The verdict is basically in on offshore wind and it’s really, really, really expensive – almost 10 times as expensive as some of cheapest wind in the Midwest. I think that’s the opening for more dialogue around, OK, not only do you have to solve the equation here in the Midwest but now you have to help PJM [Interconnection] and all the eastern states to reach their full potential.”

Soholt said that it is more pragmatic to choose a balance of both approaches – importing Midwestern wind and building offshore generation – than make them mutually exclusive.

“It’s not an either/or [situation],” she said. “You can import some and do offshore. You have governors willing to have ratepayers pay a really hefty amount for local resources, so we do have to do both. And we have to get across those seams. We’re spending a lot more time thinking about how you make the Eastern Interconnection more homogenous,” she said, adding that more work along the seams and with RTOs and ISO is being done than before. 

Soholt pointed out that with the Entergy (NYSE:ETR) operating companies joining MISO at the end of the year, more interconnections should be planned.

“They have a lot of natural gas, we have a lot of wind; we need more interconnections between the two systems [and] we’ve got SPP to consider,” she said. “Maybe we ought to be planning a system that takes into account the diversity exchange we could have between Midwest wind and natural gas a little farther south [and] plan around that.”

Soholt quipped that as soon as MISO acquired the other RTOs around it, “it will be easier to do that.” 

About Rosy Lum 525 Articles
Rosy Lum, Analyst for TransmissionHub, has been covering the U.S. energy industry since 2007. She began her career in energy journalism at SNL Financial, for which she established a New York news desk. She covered topics ranging from energy finance and renewable policies and incentives, to master limited partnerships and ETFs. Thereafter, she honed her energy and utility focus at the Financial Times' dealReporter, where she covered and broke oil and gas and utility mergers and acquisitions.