The US electricity transmission system -- as in all developed countries -- was built for traditional central generating resources, not a distributed resource like wind. A further problem in America is that over the past decade the system has been well and truly stressed by a general lack of care. As US energy secretary Bill Richardson recently said: "America is a super power, but it's got the grid of a Third World nation."
The issue of how wind can be integrated into the US power system was a major topic of this year's American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conference. New rulemaking ongoing for transmission systems gives wind advocates a chance to influence changes in how the systems are run so that wind power can compete on an equal footing with traditional resources. Several conference sessions were devoted to integrating wind into the nation's transmission systems and to how AWEA and the National Wind Co-ordinating Committee (NWCC) can influence transmission policy at the national and regional levels.
David Wooley of AWEA's Northeast State Advocacy Project says that many of the new transmission rules are now being reshaped by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission tariffs on open access to the grid and by its Order 2000, which requires the formation of regional transmission organisations (RTOs) by December 15, 2001. RTOs are similar to California's independent system operator (ISO). Wooley urged wind advocates to get involved in these talks. "There is no reason why wind should be penalised, why it should be last to access transmission, why it should have to wait in line behind fossil fuelled generators to get approval, except that we may not be at the table to influence these decisions," Wooley says. He and others, however, made it clear that wind is not seeking special case status, but fair treatment and equal access to the transmission system.
Chris Ellison, an attorney working with AWEA, said from a transmission system point of view, wind power has some drawbacks. It lacks flexibility: it has to be sited where wind resources are the best and often that is in remote areas far away from adequate transmission. It can not be placed to avoid congestion on the grid, nor can it be counted on to generate at times when the grid needs the energy most. However, he says, these are the same characteristics that make an adequate and reliable transmission system so important to the wind industry.
He and others working with the NWCC have come up with a draft of ten principles to guide RTO activities into levelling the playing field for wind. NWCC members are from electric utilities, state legislatures, utility commissions and other state and local governments, consumer advocacy groups, green power marketers, environmental organisations, Native American tribes and the wind industry. Several of these ten principles would change current transmission policy. One principle is that 100% of transmission facility costs should be paid by the load, not by the generator. This would ensure that wind is not penalised for its often remote siting nor, as a new resource, bear the burden of existing transmission costs.
NWCC also advocates a real time market so that when wind's output differs from its prescheduled reservation on the transmission system, it is not automatically penalised, whether the discrepancy hurts, helps or is indifferent to the grid. A real time market would set a price for the deviation based on the actual cost or benefit to the system.
NWCC also opposes transmission rate "pancaking" which penalises remote power resources by levying multiple charges on energy as it is transferred from the generator to the load. This can occur within an RTO and between RTOs. As a remote resource, wind is hit hard.
NWCC also says that wind generators should easily be able to interconnect to the transmission grid. Any interconnection studies should be done as quickly as possible and at as low a cost as possible. The complexity of the study should be in proportion to the impact of the generator on the system. Ellison strongly supports an independent decision-making authority for interconnection decisions, but looking at existing RTOs, he is sceptical that is what will happen.
"Putting this in the hands of a non-conflicted party is the first step, not the last," Ellison says. But he wonders if that is possible, given that many existing RTOs and ISOs hire people who have worked for utilities. "That's not all bad because they have the experience needed to run a transmission system, but there is a lot of traditional thinking that passes from the utility to the RTO."