GI Queues, Transmission Needs Face Neighboring Grid Operators
The Gulf Coast Power Association’s annual MISO–SPP Forum gathered the RTOs’ leadership and stakeholders virtually last week to discuss transmission planning, markets and the grid operators’ new-found cooperation across their seam.
SPP CEO Barbara Sugg said the grid operators began repairing and building up their relationship last year. She said both RTOs have “tremendous backlogs” of interconnection requests and concerns with affected system studies.
“The lack of transmission at requested interconnection points … stands in the way of progress,” Sugg said during the second day of the April 15-16 forum.
Sugg said the RTOs’ joint interconnection planning study and SPP’s Strategic and Creative Re-Engineering of Integrated Planning Team (SCRIPT) should both produce positive results for the interconnection queue.
“Until that backlog is cleared, this remains a top priority for SPP,” she said.
MISO CEO John Bear agreed that the queues are a problem and called for more transmission investment.
“We’ve got a lot of renewable resources in our interconnection queue and a lot of renewable resources on our system today,” he said. “We need transmission investment to move [that energy] around.”
Moderating Bear’s discussion, MISO Chief Customer Officer Todd Hillman asked why the problems facing the two RTOs and the industry are so hard to fix.
“It seems like it’s a cultural problem,” Bear said. “Our industry had a lot of time to solve problems, but we’ve done it incrementally. We’re very precise and very accurate because there is a lot of investment behind our solutions. We can’t think incrementally anymore, because the problems are already upon us. We’re trying to use old tools and metrics to solve new problems. We’ve got to move past that.”
SPP COO Lanny Nickell said that in addition to the unprecedented size of the interconnection queue, SPP suffers from uncertainty and a lack of consensus on planned projects, concerns about equitable cost allocation and a dearth of export capability.
He said SCRIPT members will concentrate on consolidating current planning processes and improving confidence behind planning decisions.
Joe Lang, director of energy regulatory affairs for Omaha Public Power District, said the group is eyeing a single annual study to identify upgrades that meet all customer needs, combining SPP’s integrated transmission planning process, interconnection and transmission service studies.
Lang said it remains to be seen whether SPP can develop that “north star” one-stop study, given the four-year backlog in SPP’s interconnection queue.
“The question is: ‘Can we pull that off?’” Nickell said.
EDP Renewables’ David Mindham said the SPP queue is plagued by interconnection studies that can’t begin until a previous one has finished and restudies from dropouts.
“I think there’s more generation in the SPP queue than there is peak demand load right now, which is just crazy,” he said. He added that it’s difficult to study amounts of generation that would more than double up SPP’s current supply.
The question remains: How will SPP allocate project costs from a more unified planning process?
“As everybody knows cost allocation is easy and there’s never any controversy with it,” joked Kansas Corporation Commission Chairman Andrew French. He said SCRIPT is considering using prior year annual energy usage to determine a load ratio share for network service charges.
Gramlich: ‘Proactive’ Transmission Needed
Grid Strategies President Rob Gramlich delivered the forum’s keynote address and discussed the need to unlock additional renewable resources.
“FERC and the RTOs should think what the grid will look like in five to 10 years,” he said. “We can’t ignore the contributions that wind, solar, storage and transmission are providing in meeting load most of those hours. We shouldn’t be having every utility in every capacity market across the country building new gas plants when we’re trying to decarbonize.”
“Proactive” transmission planning would also resolve the “pileups” in the interconnection queues, Gramlich said.
“We really just need to plan the transition out to the right areas,” he said. “You just reach a saturation point on the grid.”
MISO, SPP Contemplating TMEPs
David Kelley, SPP director of seams and tariff services, said MISO and SPP could also benefit from smaller, congestion-relieving transmission projects, such as the targeted market efficiency projects (TMEPs) used by MISO and PJM.
“We have some real value in trying to close that gap that might identify smaller costs and shorter-term solutions that just may not be able to be resolved through the longer-term planning process,” Kelley said. There are “real-time, realized issues that the longer-term planning process just may not be able to identify.”
MISO Executive Director of System Planning Aubrey Johnson said the RTO envisions projects that could be built in two to three years and cost less than $20 million. He views TMEPs as a “yes, and …” concept that works in concert with longer-term interregional planning.
The TMEPs could focus on known problem areas, such as the Nebraska-Iowa and Kansas-Missouri seams, Johnson said.
“I really believe it’s going to be a success story at the end of the day because of the fact that the staff and the CEOs, and even the board members and the regulators, [are] behind these efforts to address a known problem,” Kelley said of the RTOs’ joint interconnection planning study and possible TMEP process.
Johnson is “absolutely confident” that the grid operators’ planning teams will identify solutions, though he predicted that a cost-allocation approach would be challenging.
MISO Independent Market Monitor David Patton said he’s called out a lot of seams issues over the years but has seen little progress in fixing them, “particularly between MISO and SPP.”
He said the RTOs should better coordinate their market-to-market (M2M) interface before proposing their first interregional project. Patton prefers to see the grid operators implement coordinated transaction scheduling, with MISO asking SPP to test more interregional constraints that could be categorized as M2M.
“It’s always been my view that you can make the best decision on transmission investment and planning if you first operate the system as efficiently as possible and then see what congestion is left that can be addressed by investment,” Patton said.
SPP Vice President of Engineering Antoine Lucas said he’s optimistic that MISO and SPP can solve their seams issues.
“Up to this point, we’ve heard … the viewpoint is that the seams are a barrier, or an inhibitor to success and value between the regions,” he said. “What I would really like to see is for us to be able to turn the seams into an enabler to provide benefits and value to the customers of the RTOs. I think with the focus we have on it today … the seams can be a tremendous asset for each of our organizations.”
Kudos to RTOs for Integrated Wind
Renewable energy advocates credited the RTOs and their transmission systems for integrating approximately 50 GW of wind resources, along with some solar resources.
Advanced Power Alliance’s Steve Gaw recalled that when he began working in “SPP-land,” there were only 2 GW of wind turbines on the ground. The grid operator now has 53 GW of wind resources, which has supplied 81.9% of the fuel mix at a time. (See Blowin’ in the Wind: SPP Sets New Renewable Marks.)
“Those kinds of changes are part of the evolution that is at the forefront of both MISO and SPP,” Gaw said. “Where we are today is just the middle of the process, and we’ll see whole lot more transformation take place. Obviously, to me, the RTOs have been instrumental in making that happen. They will be incredibly important as we move into the next phase of what I think will be the transformation of American energy.”
“People thought we were crazy that that much wind would ever be online in MISO,” said Clean Grid Alliance’s Natalie McIntire, referring to her previous organization’s 2003 effort to get 10 GW of wind capacity into the RTO’s transmission expansion planning.
“We’ve met and exceeded that. They consistently underestimated what has materialized,” she said. “We are thrilled and very supportive of the most recent futures MISO is working with. They do a good job of realistically estimating what is likely to come.”
Jim Jacoby, American Electric Power’s manager of RTO policy, said grid operators will have to help manage utilities’ transition to renewable resources, saying the impacts could be “significant.” He said AEP is engaged in SPP’s capacity planning and other stakeholder groups.
“We’ve got a vested interest in making sure all those moving pieces come together,” Jacoby said. “The RTOs will be vital in allowing AEP to meet [our renewable] goals.”
Panel Pans Infrastructure Bill
Moderating a panel on long-term planning issues, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Sarah Freeman asked members about their reaction to President Biden’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure package. The $2 trillion plan includes $100 billion to build a more resilient electric grid and would connect renewable resources to urban load centers, with a goal of producing carbon-free electricity by 2035.
“In transmission terms, 2035 is like tomorrow,” said MISO’s Jennifer Curran, vice president of system planning. “I’m not sure how you get there without some technology that might not exist at commercial scale. It feels challenging, to me.
“The issue here is I don’t see [the plan] as about who invests. I see it as about who pays. I don’t see a lot in the bill that helps us with that aspect.”
“One hundred billion sounds like a lot of money, but it’s really, really not,” Terry Whitmore, Cleco’s vice president of transmission planning said. “That will be a challenge, along with how funds are allocated and to what standards they’re built to. Will [funds] be allocated to individual RTOs or the states?”