Renewables Queue Reform Planned

By Published On: March 14, 2008

The chief executive officer for California’s grid operator is preparing to reform the transmission siting process to boost the prospects for integrating renewable energy into the grid. “Time is of the essence,” Yakout Mansour, California Independent System Operator president and chief executive officer, told the Senate Energy, Utilities & Communications Committee March 11. Energy companies must start building big, long-haul transmission projects soon to achieve California’s 33 percent renewable energy goal, he maintained. To do that, the process for siting transmission must be changed. Currently it is oriented to interconnecting thermal power plants built close to urban centers where electricity is used. Most large renewable resource areas are remote from the state’s cities. Mansour said the CAISO interconnection request queue is flooded with seven to eight times more renewable generating project proposals than the state needs. Since 2006, projects representing almost 57,000 MW of renewable energy capacity have lined up for approval. “If you have a good credit card you can be in the queue,” he said. It costs $10,000 to apply for interconnection. To thin the pack so it can focus on the most qualified proposals, Mansour said the grid operator plans to impose criteria that reflect a better chance of “commercial viability, such as site control and new binding financial commitments.” CAISO’s board is expected to consider overhauling the process in May. If approved, the grid operator plans to forward the changes to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval this summer. “FERC is all ears looking for solutions,” Mansour told the lawmakers, when it comes to encouraging construction of transmission facilities, including those to tap renewable resources. His testimony came as the state Legislature prepares to consider more than 100 measures related to energy. The panel’s hearing was one of a string of informational and oversight sessions related to energy issues that lawmakers have held recently. The Assembly Utilities & Commerce committee met the day before to hash out possible grid impacts of higher renewable levels. (See story above.) To streamline the CAISO’s existing interconnection process, Mansour said the grid operator is proposing to examine generating projects on a group basis rather than case-by-case. It also plans to up the ante for seeking approval by requiring more of a financial commitment than the current $10,000 fee. Interconnection involves building transmission facilities from a generating plant into the state’s power grid. In a parallel effort, the California Public Utilities and Energy commissions are involved in the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative. CPUC commissioner Dian Grueneich called it “a stakeholder process.” CEC commissioner Jeff Byron told lawmakers that the long-term goal of the initiative is to build transmission to renewable energy resource areas to help meet the state’s 33 percent green energy goal by 2020. Without building lines into those areas, he said renewable energy use will stop growing soon after the state meets its 20 percent benchmark early in the next decade. California Wind Energy Association executive director Nancy Rader told lawmakers that the initiative process may conflict with the grid operator’s coming reforms. She further called it an attempt by the CPUC “to pick winners” by identifying particular areas to interconnect with the grid. Instead, she urged lawmakers to let renewable energy companies decide where to build projects and seek interconnection agreements through CAISO’s upcoming overhauled process, which her group supports, and the CPUC’s existing permit system for new transmission. However, Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), committee chair, urged the wind trade group to continue to participate in the initiative process. She said it is aimed at bringing some needed “order” to the state’s efforts to develop renewable energy.

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