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The Regulators Forum - States to Feds: Don't tread on Me
How far do states rights go in transmission planning?
The energy industry, coming off a remarkably difficult few years, had to deal with the huge Aug. 14 blackout, the ramifications of which have now reached regulatory policy. By putting transmission planning and reliability in the spotlight, the blackout could boost merchant transmission owners, as regulators and politicians scramble to make sure such an event does not happen again.
But before states can tackle the tough issues facing them, they must battle the feds. The especially high-stakes arena of electric transmission has state regulators fighting for their rights over siting, eminent domain, and which utility can join which regional transmission entity.
Pacific Northwest Stalwart
Idaho: Seeking Regional Solutions
Paul Kjellander, president, Idaho Public Utilities Commission
Fortnightly: After the August blackout, what is your commission doing to ensure such an event doesn't take place again?
Paul Kjellander: When the grid went dark in the East, many regulators in the West took the opportunity (with the lights on) to review the lessons learned from our own major blackouts in the summer of 1996.
Immediately following our 1996 blackouts, the Western Electricity Coordination Council (WECC) launched an investigation that led to over 140 recommendations.
Among the many changes implemented by WECC was a new Reliability Management System. It also developed enhanced transmission and operating criteria that addressed voltage stability and reactive margins. Additionally, WECC established a transmission line rating review that led to the controversial de-rating of many critical paths to better insure the reliable distribution of power. WECC's efforts also led to more responsible tree-trimming procedures in an effort to avoid transmission line contact with vegetation that could result in an outage. The other changes are too numerous to mention, but these have been highlighted in part because early reports indicate that on the day of the August blackout, voltage stability, reactive power, and transmission line contact with vegetation were among the list of possible culprits.
F: What are you doing to encourage infrastructure investment?
PK: The Idaho PUC is encouraging prudent investment in infrastructure through our Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process. We require our major utilities to routinely file an [IRP] with the commission. This filing identifies numerous concerns related to load growth, transmission and distribution constraints, and generation needs. The IRPs are developed with consultation from various interested parties, and these plans include options to help remedy any foreseeable concerns. The resolution to these concerns incorporates everything from energy efficiency to enhanced transmission capacity and new generation.
But perhaps one of the most significant benefits of this process is that it reduces the number of surprises that could lead to regulatory uncertainty. As a result of this process, we have seen, and expect to continue to see, necessary infrastructure investment.
F: What is the future of electric and gas competition in Idaho?
PK: The Idaho state legislature has studied retail deregulation for several years and has generally concluded that the benefits of competition within the energy sector are difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
Accordingly, Idaho has been slow to embrace retail competition,