EIPC eyes grid planning scenarios for 2025 with new leadership

With a smaller budget, new leadership and narrower focus on transmission planning following the completion of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative (EIPC) is delving into the specifics of grid planning and how to adapt to changing dynamics, David Whiteley, the executive director of the EIPC, told TransmissionHub Jan. 6.

EIPC has been examining transmission planning scenarios since its formation in 2009, and starting in 2010 it received funding from DOE to look at different policies and their implications for the power grid, Whiteley said in an interview. That DOE funding and subsequent reports for the federal agency to use have been completed, with EIPC focusing more on shorter term developments and forecasts, he said.

Because transmission planning is such a long-term endeavor, shorter term means 10 years instead of the 20-year projections desired by DOE, Whiteley pointed out. The grid planning documents for DOE, which included a Gas-Electric System Interface Study in 2013 that examined the co-dependency of the natural gas and electricity sectors, involved long-range forecasting and policy developments out to 2030, Whiteley said.

The work EIPC is doing now is of a scope that is 10 years down the road and “more about solving the problems of today and the next few years,” without being driven by an agenda set by DOE, he said.

The EIPC budget is not public, and without the $16m over five years that came from DOE, the group is no longer hiring consultants and it is self-funded by its planning authority members, Whiteley noted.

The group also has new leadership following the retirement of Stephen Whitley, former president and CEO at the New York Independent System Operator, who chaired the EIPC Executive Committee, EIPC said in a Jan. 5 statement.

EIPC has named Tim Ponseti of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to be chairman of the EIPC Executive Committee for 2016, with Michael Kormos, executive vice president and COO at PJM Interconnection, vice chairman of the committee for 2016.

Ponseti is vice president, transmission operations and power supply at TVA, EIPC said. “I look forward to the opportunity to continue EIPC’s progress and success during the upcoming year,” Ponseti said in the statement.

The executive committee selected Ponseti for a one-year term, said Whiteley, who added that Whitley was chairman of the committee since its inception in 2009 through a succession of one-year terms.

EIPC performs transmission analyses separate from the Eastern Interconnection States’ Planning Council (EISPC), which is made up of state regulators and state energy officials to examine various issues such as resource diversity, reliability and gas-electric infrastructure. The groups coordinate their work but there is not much overlap since EISPC tackles issues of interest to states, while EIPC focuses on the technical issues of its planning authority members, Whiteley said.

The latest work has been a draft report that pulls together the base case projections for 2025 from each planning authority. The draft report was issued in December 2015, and after taking input on it from stakeholders a final report will be released in the coming weeks, Whiteley said. The so-called “Roll-Up Integration Case” report compiles grid plans for the Eastern Interconnection as they existed in 2015, rather than serving as a blueprint for expanding the transmission system, he said.

The report includes some voltage concerns and overload possibilities at a few independent system operators, but they are mainly local in nature and can be addressed with different options, according to the report. A transmission constraint does not always mean that a new power line is needed to resolve it, but that regional transfers among different grid operators may present issues to be addressed to improve power flows in the future, the draft report said.

With the conclusions of the Roll-Up report from combining all the input from various planning authorities, “We didn’t find anything dramatic that cannot be handled between now and 2025” by the different grid operators, Whiteley said. “It’s almost like ‘no news is good news’ “ because the draft report shows that the regional plans can fit together pretty well given what is known and taking place in 2015, he said.

While there are uncertainties involved, such as state implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and some of the generation changes if natural gas prices climb dramatically, the draft report takes a “middle of the road” approach on how the transmission grid could be affected by those developments, according to Whiteley.

The positive take-away from the draft report is that while there may be transfer limitations among regions, “the transmission system can move a lot of power in a lot of different directions” and any constraints identified 10 years ahead of time can be addressed through the regional planning processes, Whiteley said.

The bulk of the work of EIPC in 2016 will be taking the final report and developing scenarios that are of interest to the planning authority members, Whiteley added. “How will the transmission system be stressed in the future if it’s different than we predict” in the draft report, he said. “We’re soliciting input on that now,” so if a planning authority wants to look at some hypothetical situation, it can be examined in different scenario plans to be developed during the year.

Some regional interests may be interested in what happens if there are more nuclear plant retirements, or if more coal-fired power plants are retired than expected, and those would be part of the scenario work of EIPC, Whitely said.

“I expect plenty of interesting activities in the coming year,” he said.