Oregon regulators open investigation into distribution system planning

The Oregon Public Utility Commission, in a March 22 order, memorialized its decision made at its March 21 regular public meeting to adopt its staff’s recommendation to open an investigation into distribution system planning (DSP).

As noted in a report by staff, the investigation would develop a transparent, robust, and holistic regulatory planning process for electric utility distribution system operations and investments.

Staff noted that for decades, Oregon utilities have engaged in a robust bulk system planning process known as Integrated Resource Planning (IRP), and that with the introduction of Smart Grid Report requirements in 2012, the commission began to broaden the existing planning paradigm to include a more thoughtful consideration of grid modernization measures, as well as increased attention to the distribution system.

Through certain orders, staff said, the commission furthered that evolution of the utility planning framework by directing Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to work with staff and parties to define a proposal for opening an investigation into DSP.

Staff added that last month, it released its whitepaper, “A proposal for electric distribution system planning,” which included key drivers for investigating DSP, the desired outcomes of both the investigation and the future planning process, a near-term scope and schedule for the investigation, and a comprehensive list of additional planning considerations.

Among other things, staff’s whitepaper noted that staff has identified two proactive drivers for initiating Oregon’s DSP investigation:

  • Insight (procedural driver): The near-term need to establish visibility and holistic engagement in utilities’ distribution-level investments
  • Optimization (operational driver): The longer-term need to ensure the operation of the changing distribution system maximizes efficiency and customer value

Staff noted in its report that it held a stakeholder workshop on March 1 to review the whitepaper and receive feedback on the proposed investigation prior to requesting that the commission open the investigation.

Based on the workshop discussion, staff plans to move forward with the investigation proposed in its whitepaper with a single modification. Staff added that it proposes an investigation structure that is phased, adaptive, and involves considerable stakeholder engagement. The investigation contains a modification to the Phase 3 key objective, which highlights the need for further discussion about the appropriate commission action after the initial distribution system plans are accepted, staff said.

According to the timeline, “Phase 1: Baseline” will run from March to December, with the key objective being for the commission to issue an order adopting guidance for utilities to file initial DSPs. “Phase 2: Assessment” will run from January 2020 to May 2021, and the key objective is for the commission to issue orders accepting the utilities’ initial DSPs and direction to refine the DSP process and/or DSP guidance. The timeline also noted that “Phase 3: Refinement” will begin in June 2021 and be ongoing, with the key objective being for the commission to approve subsequent utility DSPs as determined during Phase 1 and guidance for refinement of subsequent utility DSPs.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2807 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 13 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 corinar@pennwell.com.