Regions offer mixed review of inter-regional planning needs

Grid operators and transmission organizations offered varying views June 28 on how much the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should do to spur greater inter-regional planning.

The panel discussion on inter-regional transmission coordination issues was part of a two-day Competitive Transmission Development Technical Conference held by FERC in Washington, D.C.

Some panelist during an afternoon discussion praised Order 1000, which concerns transmission planning and cost allocation, and suggested that only tweaks to the process are needed at this time. Others said more far-reaching changes are needed to improve inter-regional planning.

‘Stay the course’ versus more FERC action

FERC Chairman Norman Bay said some stakeholders want FERC to “stay the course” under Order No. 1000 while others are pushing FERC for more dramatic action.

FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur said the inter-regional planning aspects of Order 1000 were intentionally kept “soft.” FERC is now trying to determine when the time might be right for more extensive planning requirements.

Much major infrastructure development occurred before Order 1000 and within the regions such as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). LaFleur cited ERCOT’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zones or CREZ.

Here is a look at the panelists, their organizations, and some of their key comments during the discussion.

• Angela Weber, Commissioner, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission/and member of Organization of MISO States said “cost allocation is where the fight is at.”  Cooperation between RTOs will hopefully ease costs, Weber said.

• John Buechler of the New York Independent System Operator said NYISO supports Order 1000. “Transmission is needed in New York to replace aging infrastructure,” Buechler said. New York ISO supports FERC incentives for new transmission, Buechler said. If nothing else, the existing framework has nudged cooperation between neighboring grids, Buechler said.

• Jennifer Curran, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, said “although a great deal of progress has been made under Order 1000” more work is needed on cooperating with neighbors on planning. Grid operators often focus on mutual common ground. MISO is developing a closer relationship with the Southwest Power Pool, Curran said. MISO “does not see the need for commission action at this time,” Curran said. “I am optimistic that we are already making the turn.”

• Gary DeShazo, California Independent System Operator suggested there are limits to inter-regional planning. Continued growth of renewables in the West is influencing transmission needs. Power demand has peaked or declined within the CAISO region because of inside-the-fence generation such as solar, DeShazo said. Some inter-regional projects have been submitted to CAISO, DeShazo said. CAISO will study the proposed projects in light of the California 50% renewables target. Western region “are becoming more familiar in working with one another,” DeShazo said.

• Maury Galbraith, Western Interstate Energy Board, said current procedures are insufficient in the West. Data that supported generation and transmission projects “on the local level” might be insufficient at the regional level. Some regions might see less need for big infrastructure due to greater local deployment of distributed grid investment, Galbraith said. The time for change is “if not now, then soon.”

In response a question from FERC Commissioner Tony Clark, Galbraith noted there is a big “governance” debate going on in the West regarding state powers.

• Steve Gaw, Wind Coalition, said “We are in the midst of dramatic change … The Clean Power Plan may be in litigation but change is occurring regardless of the outcome.” Order 1000 was good, but “more must be done.” Much has changed since Order 1000 was enacted as the economy moves toward a low-carbon future, Gaw said. “We are in a canoe and we are being asked to cross the ocean.” Everyone agrees that it takes years to develop major transmission projects and better planning is needed, Gaw said.

• Dennis Kramer, Ameren Services/MISO Transmission Owners, said FERC should avoid “one size fits all” solutions. Some areas are seeing more growth in distributed resources and some areas are seeing retirement of large baseload plants, Kramer said. Order 1000 is about five years old. While continued improvement is needed, “we do not believe” that significant regulatory action is needed now, Kramer said. Regions like MISO have been engaged in inter-regional issues for years, he said.

• Robert McKee, American Transmission Co./WIRES, agrees with others that a shift is already occurring in the U.S. generation mix. Inter-regional planning “is critical” to making this transition as smooth as possible, McKee said. A Brattle study for WIRES shows gaps and problems in inter-regional planning. Brattle has said that the industry’s traditional planning processes are not yet focused on identifying valuable transmission solutions that can address long-term uncertainties.

• Carl Monroe, Southwest Power Pool said SPP favors “evolution over revolution” when it comes to regulatory procedures. SPP also has lots of wind capacity. Inter-regional planning “is both an opportunity and a necessity.” Common project eligibility criteria would help the process, Monroe said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.