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E&E News:  Western states ponder regional grid as renewables grow

Posted by Jason Plautz on Nov 22, 2022

E&E News explored what a unified electricity market could look like in the West, citing AEE's Western RTO Economic Impact Report findings and quoting Sarah Steinberg on the win a regional transmission organization offers states. Read snippets below and the full article here.

As temperatures on the West Coast soared into the triple digits in early September, power demand threatened to reach record levels — and utilities braced for grid problems...

In other areas of the country, electricity grids are organized under operators that coordinate and control the market across state lines. But in the Western Interconnection, which serves most of the western U.S. and parts of Canada, there are 38 different authorities responsible for balancing their own grids.

Experts say organizing them under a regional transmission organization (RTO) or a similar independent system operator (ISO) could unlock regional cooperation, lower prices and facilitate decarbonization. Rather than leaving it up to each individual utility or operator to coordinate power generation and transmission in its slice of the grid, an RTO or ISO could manage the puzzle pieces from a higher perch, moving the most efficient and lowest-cost power to where it's needed.

That could be especially valuable as the West deals with a decades long drought that threatens hydropower, and as states and utilities close large coal plants. A regional market, experts say, would allow ample wind generation in more central states to flow west, while solar production from states like California and Arizona could be sent elsewhere....

report released this summer by Advanced Energy Economy estimated that an RTO covering 11 Western states could add up to 4,400 megawatts of new clean energy and save states $2 billion in annual energy costs...

Under a 2021 Colorado law and a separate 2021 Nevada law, utilities in those states will have to join an RTO or organized market by 2030. A Nevada task force that includes lawmakers, utilities and tribes will submit a report by the end of this month that includes legislative recommendations...

The election of Republican Joe Lombardo as governor of Nevada, replacing clean energy advocate Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), is not likely to upend the state’s RTO campaign, according to Advanced Energy Economy principal Sarah Steinberg. Much of that work is now being done at the level of the utilities commission or Legislature and the process has been largely bipartisan, she said.

“The economics are so encouraging, both directly and indirectly,” Steinberg said, “that we think this will be a win-win no matter who is in charge.”

Read the full article here.

Topics: Wholesale Markets, United In The News, Sarah Steinberg, Western RTO