Grid operator ‘seam’ study paves way for renewable energy expansion


Reprinted from E&E News courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.

A joint study by two regional grid operators whose territories span a wide swath of the central United States reveals how strategically located transmission projects along their borders could enable a wave of new renewable energy generation that might not be built otherwise.

The final studyreleased yesterday, is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to help enable more wind and solar development in an area that is becoming increasingly difficult for developers of renewables due to grid constraints.

The study identified seven transmission projects along the MISO-SPP border that would cost $1.65 billion and enable 28 gigawatts of new generation capacity – and possibly as much as 53 GW – across MISO and SPP. combined. This latest estimate, based on SPP modeling, would roughly double the combined wind and solar capacity that currently exists in the two regions.

“Identifying projects that can meet generator interconnection needs in both regions for a period of time is huge, it’s very important,” said Natalie McIntire, technical and policy consultant for the Clean Grid Alliance, at St Paul, Minn. renewable energy based group whose members include renewable energy developers.

Projects to unlock the region’s renewable energy potential could accelerate the pace of transition from fossil fuels in parts of the country long linked to coal.

This is especially true in the high plains, where the lack of available transmission limits the ability to bring new wind and solar projects online (thread of energyDecember 12, 2019).

Minnesota Public Utilities Commission member Joe Sullivan noted in a recent webinar hosted by the Midwestern Governors Association that his state is doing what it can to enable new transmission to help meet its climate goals. But as part of a multi-state regional network, it can’t do much on its own.

“We are very aware that we are not able to achieve our own state goals due to a lack of [transmission] ability,” Sullivan said.

And starting to work on the new lines identified by MISO and SPP involves developing some consensus on who will benefit from the projects and, therefore, who will pay for them.

Network neighbors

The so-called Joint Targeted Interconnection Queue (JTIQ) study is the product of a conversation among regional network operator CEOs shortly after SPP CEO Barbara Sugg was promoted to the role in 2020.

MISO and SPP are neighbors whose territories span approximately two dozen states in the middle of the United States. The regions are also rich in renewable potential, a fact confirmed by the long list of wind and solar projects seeking to connect to the grid. Combined, there are over 150 GW of wind and solar capacity in grid operator interconnect queues – the first-come, first-served system for processing interconnect requests.

This is not the only similarity between the regional grids. MISO and SPP have also seen an increase in next-generation connection costs along their shared border, a north-south line that winds from the Canadian border to Texas.

The junction between MISO and SPP has become particularly difficult because the addition of a new generation on one side of a regional transmission border can lead to transmission constraints on the other. And project developers have to pay for upgrades. As systems become more constrained, these costs increase.

And these higher costs have increasingly led developers to abandon queues because they are no longer economical to build.

The MISO and SPP teams were tasked with working together on a common solution to these constraints, said Andy Witmeier, director of resource utilization at MISO.

“The idea was, can we look at a more holistic approach, a more holistic solution, to allow more projects to interconnect?” Witmeier said in an interview.

Once the solutions have been identified, network managers now seek to lead discussions on how to identify who benefits. This, in turn, will dictate who pays for them.

Already, the issue of cost allocation is causing debate. This is especially true because MISO is pursuing two of the projects under a separate transmission expansion plan with costs allocated to utility customers.

A key tension moving forward is how much of the remaining five projects is funded by energy consumers and how much will be borne by producers wishing to connect projects to the grid.

A “proof of concept”

Andrew French, a member of the Kansas Corporation Commission, said the joint efforts of MISO and SPP were encouraging.

“It may not be a blueprint, but a proof of concept of a bigger thing that we’re trying to do now,” he said, “which is to break down the silos in the planning process. , to try to find more optimal projects that can meet multiple needs more economically.

But French, speaking at the Midwestern Governors Association event, said MISO’s decision to independently seek approval for two of the projects identified in the study suggests the remaining five projects would primarily benefit customers in the study. interconnection – the generators.

“It certainly changes the debate when you remove a few projects from a portfolio and those projects were the ones that had the main benefit of loading [energy users],” he said.

McIntire of the Clean Grid Alliance, however, said discussion of how to fund projects along the MISO-SPP seam must be rooted in an analysis of a wide range of benefits associated with expanding the grid. transmission. These could include lower energy costs to increased resilience and the ability to move electricity between regions, she said.

“We expect there to be reliability benefits for the load,” McIntire said. “These are more difficult to quantify, but we think they are at least worth a look. And there may be other quantifiable benefits, so we would like to see an expanded set of benefit measures in the assessment. of these projects.

Witmeier hopes the grid operators will have a proposal to submit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the end of the year. Only after FERC approval would projects be presented to the SPP and MISO boards for final approval.

In the meantime, the debate over cost allocation is only likely to intensify between utilities, consumer groups, renewable energy developers and regulators.

And while the main focus will be on the cost of building the handful of transmission lines along the border between MISO and SPP, Minnesota’s PUC’s Sullivan said there’s also a cost not to be do the projects.

Sullivan said the state will pursue its climate goals with or without the proposed transmission lines identified in the JTIQ study, “but the solutions are going to be a lot more expensive and it’s going to take a lot longer.”


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