The old rules don’t always fit with new commercial realities.
Glenn J. Berger and Cheryl Foley
To encourage billions of dollars of investment into America’s transmission grid over the next several decades, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is restructuring its regulatory policies to bring market-based solutions into the framework for planning, construction, and operation of new transmission lines. The recent Order 1000 is the most dramatic example of this effort. But as FERC has learned before, one set of rules doesn’t serve the financial and commercial needs of all market participants.
In the Pacific Northwest, you either spill water or spill wind.
The wind power industry has been up in arms ever since the Bonneville Power Administration earlier this year announced its Interim Environmental Redispatch and Negative Pricing Policy. That policy, applicable during periods of high spring runoff and heavy water flow volumes on the Federal Columbia River Power System, calls for BPA to redispatch and curtail access to transmission for wind power generating turbines, and to replace that resource with hydroelectric power generated via BOA hydroelectric dams, in order to avoid having to divert water through dam spillways, which could threaten fish and wildlife by creating excess levels of Total Dissolved Gas (TDG), which can cause Gas Bubble Trauma. Yet the legal issue remains unclear: Does this practice imply discrimination in the provision of transmission service, or is it simply a matter of system balancing and generation dispatch? In fact, the FERC may lack jurisdiction over the dispute, as it pertains to the fulfillment of BPA’s statutory mandates.
Why the green grid might do better without open access.
Are the Feds at war with green power development? You might have thought so, if you had sat through the conference held March 15, 2011, at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where the consensus seemed to be that FERC’s policy of granting open-access rights on electric transmission lines is problematic for green power projects. In short, when wind and solar developers choose to build their own local tie lines to link their projects to the larger grid, FERC policy forces them to make extra line capacity available to rival developers. That requirement doomed the novel Wind Spirit Project, and continues to complicate the job of project financing.
Federal policy trumps state siting authority.
Catherine R. Connors et al.
In some states, transmission projects have slowed to a halt as regulators attempt to substitute their own need determinations for those of RTOs. The federal framework encourages cooperation, but Congress and the courts have given FERC clear authority over interstate transmission systems.
Synchronizing networks to bring green power to market.
In order to fully integrate wind and other dispersed sources of energy into the system, America’s patchwork transmission networks need to be more closely interconnected and synchronized. An advocate for the Tres Amigas merchant transmission project explains how the proposed facility will integrate the grid.
How merchant funding is remaking the rules for renewables.
Six weeks ago, FERC opened a notice of inquiry to invite industry comments on whether wind, solar, and other intermittent energy sources face unfair obstacles in wholesale power markets. Now assigned their own acronym—VERs, for “variable energy resources”—renewables make up a growing percentage of the nation’s energy supply portfolio. But as FERC notes, they present “unique challenges,” especially in terms of constraints on location and limits on the degree to which system operators can control or dispatch individual VER units. Thus, FERC suggests that certain common rules and practices, such as those for unit commitment, dispatch, and scheduling, might make it overly difficult to integrate VERs into the grid.
ITC and AEP jockey for the lead in building the grid of tomorrow.
On February 9, a group of the nation’s major grid system operators released a study estimating the nation’s electric industry sector needs to spend some $80 billion—more than 10 times the size of that portion of the Obama stimulus package directed specifically at transmission construction—in order to achieve a 20 percent retail penetration for renewable wind energy in just the Eastern Interconnection.
Enforcement trends call for a proactive approach to complying with market rules.
Federal regulators have penalized wholesale energy market participants with fines ranging from $300 thousand to $300 million over the past two years. The magnitude of the penalties, along with uncertainty over how to effectively mitigate the risk of any civil action by regulators, has raised concern about how companies are approaching their regulatory obligations.
Why developers today are often kept waiting to get projects ok’d to connect to the grid.
Late last year FERC learned that the Midwest regional grid likely would require at least 40 years — until 2050 — simply to clear its backlog of proposed gen projects awaiting a completed interconnection agreement to certify their compatibility with the interstate power grid. But grid engineers would meet that date only by shortening the process and studying multiple projects simultaneously in clusters. To apply the process literally, studying one project at a time, as envisioned by current rules, the Midwest reportedly would need 300-plus years to clear its project queue.
FERC would relax price caps—sending rates skyward—to encourage customers to curtail loads.
About four months ago, at a conference at Stanford University’s Center for International Development, the economist and utility industry expert Frank Wolak turned heads with a not-so-new but very outrageous idea.