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Canary Media: Western States Look to Regional Transmission Organizations to Boost Clean Energy's Pathways to Market

Posted by Jeff St. John on Jun 3, 2021

Canary Media summarized the possibility for RTO expansion in the West, citing AEE’s Sarah Steinberg and Amisha RaiRead snippets below and the full article here.

The Western U.S. is a hotbed for renewable power development. What it lacks are the regional regulatory and economic structures to build the transmission lines needed to move that clean power to far-off population centers and share it across a region facing increasing grid-reliability challenges driven by climate change.

But the bill now awaiting Governor Steve Sisolak’s signature also puts NV Energy on a course to win state regulator approval for $2.5 billion in new transmission grid capacity that it’s already planning to build to expand the state’s already fast-growing supply of renewable energy. In the longer term, it sets two new 2030 goals for state energy policy: to get to 80 percent renewable energy, up from a 50 percent target today, and to explore the possibility of ordering the state’s utilities to join a regional transmission organization (RTO).

...joining a regional market could expand clean energy benefits both inside and outside the state’s borders, said Sarah Steinberg, a policy principal at Advanced Energy Economy, an industry group that’s been leading the charge on expanding RTOs across the country.

Support for SB 448 ranges from environmental and labor groups, with amendments accepted by the state’s massive gambling and hospitality industries, she noted. “They see the benefits in terms of lower [energy] rates and economic development,” she said.

“Large energy users want to stay in areas that have RTOs because it offers more energy purchasing options,” she added. While NV Energy has been boosting its share of renewable energy, major customers including MGM Resorts International have paid to exit the utility’s service and set up shop with independent energy suppliers.

Steinberg noted the importance of NV Energy's support for SB 448 in this context. The bill will provide key legal support to the utility’s Greenlink Nevada transmission projects, two high-voltage lines that will connect the cities of Las Vegas in the south and Reno in the north, and open up about 5 GW of renewable energy projects across the state.

… SB 448 will order NV Energy to submit a new transmission plan this year as an amendment to its integrated resource plan filed this week “to propose the rest of the links in the region needed to spur economic development,” Steinberg said.

Nevada’s solar, wind and geothermal resources have the potential to serve markets outside the state's borders, primarily in California, but also across the region, Steinberg said.

“The state sees itself as able to become a net exporter, and the transmission development that needs to happen, which will also facilitate an RTO, is going to enable a lot more renewables to come online,” she said. “There are some pretty significant geographic constraints right now.”

Nevada isn’t the only state looking at these potential RTO benefits. In Colorado, Senate Bill 72 is proposing a similar path by setting up an independent transmission authority that could require all the state’s investor-owned utilities to join an RTO by 2030.

But Amisha Rai, managing director of Advanced Energy Economy, sees Colorado’s SB 72 as an important step to align multiple Western states on a common path to integrate their energy market and transmission plans.

“This is an issue that all states are looking at in the West,” Rai said. “We’re seeing states like Nevada and Colorado really stepping up and making a statement that creating a Western RTO is a priority for their states, and that it’s essential not only to meet their clean energy goals, but to ensure that electricity rates are affordable into the future.”

Oregon lawmakers are exploring a bill that would study the benefits of an RTO, she noted. Utah has no such legislation at present, but in 2019 it commissioned a study of its transmission system that found future renewable energy development could lead to congestion on its existing transmission system.

To Rai, these problems with other regional transmission organizations point to the need for the Western U.S. to “think about the RTO of the future,” one that can help spur the doubling or tripling of nationwide transmission capacity that multiple studies say is needed to meet the clean energy mandates being set by a growing number of states, as well as by the Biden administration.

“We really do need to be thinking about what can serve this region best, given the climate impacts, the drought conditions, the clean energy on the books, and all of the challenges we’re grappling with,” she said. “The sooner we get moving on it, the better it will be for ratepayers and for getting this energy online as soon as possible.”

Read the full article here.

Topics: AEE In The News