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Unblocking the transmission jam

Yet another effort is underway in California to reform the process by which wind and other renewables' generation reaches the consumer. Wind power might be booming across America, but almost nothing came online in California last year, at one time the leading state for wind turbine installations.

The core problem is lack of sufficient transmission capacity, manifesting itself right now as a tight bottleneck in the state's system for feeding new generation into the network. Proposals to reform the so-called Large Generator Interconnection Process have recently been submitted to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) by the California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA).

"There is as much as 80,000 MW of projects in the queue and they are all basically stuck. The process is just not working," says CalWEA's Nancy Rader, who adds that as much as two-thirds of the applications are for renewable energy projects. Until these can start production, the state's utilities cannot comply with legislation requiring them to secure a rising percentage of green energy under the state's Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) law. "The state's RPS goals will not be met unless that process is immediately and effectively reformed," says Rader.

The specific proposals for change are complicated but Radar says her organisation's suggestions are "getting traction" at the CAISO and with various companies and renewable energy groups. The proposal thins out the existing queue by getting viable projects to the interconnection agreement (IA) stage quickly by grouping them in clusters, simplifying the cost study process, and producing firm cost responsibilities and timing agreements. Proposed generators that do not sign an IA drop out of the queue, but may re-enter during a future study window.

Signed IAs become "needs" that must be addressed in the regional planning process along with reliability needs and economic opportunities. This co-ordination enables more efficient transmission solutions -- and takes the design of the actual upgrade out of the IA process. Since the upgrade will address multiple system needs simultaneously, it is assigned to a transmission owner (TO) in the regional planning process and is financed by that TO. The generator pays for interconnection costs only, plus a reasonable fee for securing a place in the queue that is refunded upon commercial operation of the project.

The ISO included CalWEA's proposals in a stakeholder process on reforming the interconnection process begun last month. Once a reform is agreed, the ISO must seek permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to implement associated tariff changes or risk parties intervening to get FERC to adopt something different.

CalWEA is acting on wind power's behalf in California, but efforts in other states to unblock similar jammed interconnection queues is strongly supported by the American Wind Energy Association.

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