WASHINGTON, DC, May 17, 2023 — Today the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released its annual summer reliability assessment warning Western states that they are in for another summer of elevated risk of blackouts due to extreme heat in 2023. NERC issued a similar warning last May, before record heat waves strained energy supplies in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest in September.
“With no end in sight to grueling summer heat waves induced by climate change, states that do nothing to shore up the energy grid will continue to risk blackouts and skyrocketing electricity costs,” said Leah Rubin Shen, Managing Director at Advanced Energy United, a national association of businesses working to achieve 100% clean energy in America, the national association of businesses working to achieve 100% clean energy in America. “Modernizing our 100-year-old electric grid with new transmission lines and new grid-improving technology will make it easier for all kinds of clean energy, like large-scale projects as well as household and neighborhood resources, to connect to the grid and make it more reliable and affordable.
“Another key to a more reliable electric grid is unifying it across Western states in the form of what’s called a regional transmission organization (RTO), a proven solution that most of the rest of the U.S. uses to move energy more efficiently,” added Advanced Energy United Vice President of Advocacy and Policy Amisha Rai.
Creating an expanded West-wide electric grid in the form of an RTO would allow utilities in multiple states to coordinate resources to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and improve energy reliability regionwide.
“Right now, the Western U.S. has a patchwork grid rather than a coordinated one that is planned and operated as one region — and that’s why we’ve seen so many challenges to keep the lights on during extreme weather events over the past several years,” said Jack Wadleigh, Western Regulatory and Market Affairs Manager, at EDP Renewables. “The West has a diverse resource portfolio that with the necessary physical and operational infrastructure can provide power to consumers reliably during even the most challenging conditions. Recent experience demonstrates that those who can easily share resources across a larger geographic footprint have better outcomes than those who cannot.”
Already there is momentum in the West towards creating an RTO. Colorado and Nevada have directed their public utility commissions to join a regional grid by 2030, and a bill exploring grid regionalization is currently making its way through the California Assembly.
“Right now, there are 38 entities managing 38 separate energy territories in the West,” said Mona Tierney-Lloyd, Head of State Public Policy for Enel North America. “Coordinating across all of them can be very challenging when supplies are tight and demand is soaring — and that's what contributes to power outages. A regional transmission organization would make it much easier to coordinate and keep the lights on everywhere in the West. It is a much more efficient and reliable way of sharing scarce resources.”
“Going it alone is not a winning strategy when it comes to energy reliability in the West,” added Rubin Shen with Advanced Energy United. “Look at what happened to Texas in 2021. Texas has its own grid system that is almost entirely isolated from its neighbors, and when temperatures dropped below freezing for almost a week, the energy grid collapsed. More than four million people went without power and 200 died. As extreme weather events become increasingly common, the risks associated with going it alone are only going to become greater, and we need to have a plan.”