PJM and the crisis over FTR underfunding.
PJM’s latest crisis—the underfunding of financial transmission rights that we’ve seen over the last few years—pushes regulators right to the edge. How far do they trust wholesale power markets? Do they accept the idea, proven by a famous economist, that freely traded financial instruments can work just as well—better even—than firm, physical contract rights?
When you sell demand response back to the grid, how much capacity are you now not buying?
When customers sell demand response into a regional capacity market (such as PJM’s Reliability Pricing Model, known as the RPM), how much credit should they earn for agreeing to curtail demand and alleviating stress on the grid — that is, for reducing the market’s need for generating capability and capacity reserve margin? And further, should the amount of credit depend on whether the customer works with market aggregators, known both as CSPs (“Curtailment Service Providers”) or ARCs (“Aggregators of Retail Customers”)? One view would pay customers for the full extent of their curtailment of demand — known as its “Guaranteed Load Drop” (GLD). The other would limit capacity credit to the customer’s prior load history — “Peak Load Contribution,” or PLC. The answer may well dictate whether regulators continue to treat “energy” and “capacity” as two distinct concepts.
Out of market means out of luck—even for self-supply.
When the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its so-called ”MOPR“ decision in April 2011, approving a minimum offer price rule (or bid floor) for PJM RPM capacity market — and then on the very next day did much the same for New England’s FCM capacity market — FERC did more than just prop up prices. Instead, it created a nightmare scenario for utilities that still own their own generation. These utilities, who choose to “self-supply” with their own plants, rather than buy capacity from either the RPM or FCM, adequacy rules, could now be forced to pay twice for capacity — if their own plants are deemed inefficient or uneconomic.
Raising the stakes in RTO markets.
Generators and demand-response providers are reaping rewards in forward capacity auctions, causing suppliers to go shopping for the most lucrative markets. Now the Midwest ISO is trying to catch up, by proposing its own auction for years-ahead resource bids. But does RTO shopping serve the interests of customers, who are legally entitled to rates that are just and reasonable? Why are some state policy makers advocating a return to old-school RFPs for long-term contracts?
Are subsidies the best way to achieve smart grid goals?
FERC has proposed that wholesale energy markets should subsidize load reductions with full LMP (locational marginal price), without deducting the customers’ retail savings. Such a policy could distort the market, and other solutions might achieve the same objectives more efficiently.
Proving market performance requires detailed analysis.
Now that fuel prices have fallen recently from the highs seen in 2008 and wholesale electricity prices also have decreased, it might be tempting to attribute the lower prices to the restructuring of the wholesale electricity markets. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Economists take sides in the battle for DR’s soul.
Back when the U.S. economy and power consumption still were bubbling, PJM reported in August 2006 that customer curtailments during a week-long August heat wave had generated more than $650 million in market-wide energy savings—all at a mere $5 million cost, as measured in direct payments made to the demand response (DR) providers, set according to wholesale power prices prevailing at the time. Where else but the lottery can you get an instant payoff of 130-1?
Defining the mission when the consumer plays second-fiddle to the needs of the market.
Six months back, when ISO New England was mulling over various reforms that FERC had mandated last fall in Order 719 for the nation’s six regional transmission organizations and independent system operators (RTOs and ISOs are interchangeable terms in this column), the ISO refused point blank to include in its mission statement a proposal by stakeholders that it should operate the bulk power system at the “lowest reasonable cost.”