By Tom Kleckner
DENVER — SPP stakeholders made another effort to revise the RTO’s transmission-zone placement process last week, but once again came up short when the Board of Directors sustained its earlier rejection.
The revision request’s (RR172) defeat likely means future disputes over cost shifts caused by SPP’s zonal-placement decisions will be resolved through litigation.
“I’m not sure about next steps, but you can be sure it will be argued about at FERC in both current dockets and future dockets,” Kansas City Power & Light’s Denise Buffington told RTO Insider.
Several cases involving cost shifts are currently before FERC (ER12-959, ER16-204 and ER17-2020). Another (ER15-1499) has been settled between KCP&L and the City of Independence, Mo., and the terms are being phased in. After KCP&L objected to Independence being placed in its zone, the parties agree to phase in the city’s annual transmission revenue requirement in three tranches ($3 million for June 2015-December 2016, $3.5 million for 2017 and $5 million for January 2018-May 2019).
Buffington has been the driving force behind RR172 for more than a year. She says there is a gap in SPP’s process for placing applicant transmission owners (ATOs) in existing zones. Staff currently determine which of 18 transmission pricing zones to place new TOs, which can result in cost shifts for those in the incumbent zone.
“When SPP provides analysis to an impacted zone, SPP specifically states which zone the new TO comes into,” Buffington said. “One of the issues in litigation is whether or not SPP should even make that decision. SPP has argued in litigation that that’s within their scope and is their responsibility.”
Buffington said she revised RR172 to incorporate that concept, saying it mitigates the costs of zonal-placement decisions and protects both existing and new customers from cost shifts by capping cost shifts for legacy facilities at 2% of the annual transmission revenue requirement or $1 million, and creating an 18-month period without cost shifts for the facilities following integration. It also would have provided an exclusion for legacy facilities that were jointly planned for the benefit of all customers in the zone.
“We’re trying to isolate the cost of legacy facilities built outside the SPP planning process,” Buffington said. “We want the board to give us some guidance on the policy. We feel we need some bookends around the cost structure, to help both existing and new members.”
The revision had been through nine in-depth discussions in three stakeholder groups. Three weeks ago, it was rejected following a contentious discussion at the Markets and Operations Policy Committee, setting the stage for last week’s appeal. (See Divide Evident Between SPP Tx Owners, Users.)
Public power entities led the opposition to RR172. Dave Osburn, general manager of the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, was among those signing a letter that was submitted four days before the board meeting. The letter, co-signed by Golden Spread Electric Cooperative and Northeast Texas Electric Cooperative, charged “KCP&L has been transparent that the RR172 process, and the expected failure, is simply a prerequisite” to a Section 206 complaint at FERC.
“One of the concerns we have on this is as a transmission-dependent utility we should be careful to not approve something that keeps the smaller entities from building transmission and getting cost recovery,” Osburn said during the discussion. “We’ve been paying a load-ratio share of transmission customers for quite a while. Some assets in existing transmission zones may not benefit all customers either, but we pay our load-ratio share regardless. The money we pay is just as important as the TOs’.”
“This is an additional burden for a new ATO. They are going to have to present a lot of data people haven’t in the past,” said NTEC Vice President Jason Atwood. “It concerns me we’re always talking about expanding the footprint. The concern about something like this is it could impact the expansion.”
Nebraska Public Power District’s Paul Malone, whose company is involved in one of the FERC dockets, wondered aloud whether there was an ulterior motive to the current zonal-placement process.
“Costs shifts are not a one-time issue. They come back year after year,” Malone said. “Are the new members joining because they expect someone else to pay for their system? Is that the windfall to entice them to join? I hope not.”
“We’re all trying to do the right thing for our customers. They’re the ones impacted by these cost shifts,” Buffington said. “Nothing in this proposal is intended to prevent entities from collecting the revenue requirement. It’s all about which customers pay.”
The Members Committee approved RR172 by an 11-9 vote. However, the board voted against the motion.
Midwest Energy’s Bill Dowling was among those supporting RR172, though he was reluctant to change the Tariff language.
“That gives us the flexibility to continue to adjust the process, especially when some of the issues around cost mitigation and cost shifts are still in flux,” he said. “It’s been an issue, and it continues to be an issue.”
“It’s not the end of the story,” SPP Board Chair Jim Eckelberger said. “There was a suggestion to let some time pass and see what we learn from it. That may be one answer to it, but sooner or later, if nothing is forthcoming and the problem still exists — and I think it’s a problem — we’ll have to assign the problem to someone.”
“We’ll continue to work with the stakeholders to find a path forward,” Buffington said. “I don’t know if that will be in a FERC proceeding or through the stakeholder process, but we’ll do some work on that.”
The board did approve a four-step communications process for SPP staff to follow in making zonal placement decisions. The Transmission Owner Zonal Placement Process document addresses the growth of transmission zones in SPP’s footprint and concerns expressed over the process in FERC proceedings. (See “SPC Approves Zonal Placement Process Document,” SPP Strategic Planning Committee Briefs: July 13, 2017.)
However, Buffington found little solace in the document’s passage.
“The process document does not solve any of the underlying issues,” she said, referring to her concerns about a lack of notice and transparency. “SPP has used informal criteria to determine which zone to place a new entity in. They’ve never included cost impacts in their solution. The process lacks transparency and harms existing customers.”
Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. CEO Duane Highley reminded the board and members that his company’s long-time stakeholder representative, the recently retired Ricky Bittle, always believed SPP should consist of one zone.
“Maybe the time for Ricky’s dream has come,” SPP Director Phyllis Bernard said. “It seems the difficulty of this whole issue, trying to talk through it and work it out, has seemed to be intractable. It seems to take up so much resources, good will, time and results that no one is satisfied with it. A [single postage-stamp] rate is a worthy goal to work towards.”