Wind Power Imports Hit California Wall

By Published On: February 26, 2010

In spite of growing political pressure to use clean energy, the state’s ability to import more wind and solar power is limited by complications in managing the transmission system. Some utilities say this has impeded their efforts to ramp up use of alternative energy. “[CA]ISO does not allow imports of wind at this time,” said Gurcharan Bawa, Pasadena Water & Power assistant general manager. Hurdles at the California Independent System Operator, he said, recently forced the Pasadena muni and Anaheim to pull out of a Utah wind energy project they had spent over a year negotiating. The 102 MW Milford II Wind Project--being developed by Massachusetts-based Firstwind--was to provide its power to Pasadena, Anaheim, and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. Power was to flow down a line controlled by LADWP, but for the energy to reach Pasadena and Anaheim, which are surrounded by Southern California Edison territory, it has to run in part through the grid operator’s control area, noted Bawa. At issue, according to CAISO spokesperson Gregg Fishman, is the need to balance the state’s grid as the amount of intermittent power grows. This is particularly important to wind energy, which can fluctuate by the minute. Accommodating such power requires the grid operator to create, what Fishman called, “special contracts, agreements and operating procedures” that involve installing communication and monitoring equipment on power lines. These allow the grid operator to “firm” variable renewable energy project deliveries as they fluctuate. By doing so, these special arrangements enable the grid operator to carry out so-called “dynamic transfers” of power and still balance its system to maintain electric service. Currently, the grid operator carries out physical imports of renewable energy in static transfers, which are scheduled on an hourly basis. However, static transfers do not work well with all renewable energy resources, particularly wind and sometimes solar. “There are several issues to resolve before we can reliably accommodate a significant increase of wind and solar imports,” said Fishman. The grid operator is working to break through the limits and expand its ability to import more intermittent renewable energy, but the going is slow, according to renewable developers and utilities. As it struggles to figure out how to change the way it operates the state’s transmission system, up to ten out-of-state renewable energy projects want to send power to California, according to CAISO. In Utah, the Milford II project is to follow the Milford I wind energy facility, which started providing 203.5 MW of wind energy to Southern California late last year. However, in recent correspondence to the grid operator, Bonnie Blair, an attorney for Pasadena and other Southern California munis, said that power from the Milford I wind project cannot be delivered to Pasadena and Anaheim under CAISO’s current tariff and operating procedures. “Continuing inability to import renewable energy resources from outside the ISO’s balancing authority area will delay progress in meeting renewable portfolio standard targets, contrary to policies endorsed by the state and by municipalities,” she wrote. Firstwind spokesperson John LaMontagne said that the Milford II project still is going forward and would take about six months to a year to build. That’s because LADWP is the major participant, according to Bawa. Pasadena, for instance, was only supposed to receive 10 MW of the project’s output. Bawa said that Pasadena is striving to meet a 40 percent renewable energy target by 2020, but that making progress has been very complicated and difficult. “I lament that now-a-days you can’t get anything done,” said Jim Gonzalez, chair of the Renewable Energy Accountability Project, which is pressuring Pasadena and other Southern California munis to end their use of coal power. He said that the grid operator has seized on “some technical problem and blown it out of proportion.” To iron out the renewable power import problems, the grid operator late last year kicked off a proceeding aimed at increasing its ability to handle “dynamic” transfers. Those familiar with the proceeding do not expect it to conclude until late this year at the earliest, noting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must approve any changes as well as CAISO. One of the key issues the grid operator is dealing with is how to apportion the costs of firming intermittent resources, as well as who is responsible for doing so, the balancing authority in the importing state or the balancing authority in the state where the power is generated.

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