Wanted – creative transmission owners willing to try alternatives to network upgrades!

Wanted – creative transmission owners willing to try alternatives to network upgrades!

Renewable energy project developers spend a lot of money in the generator interconnection queue for the queue position. This capital outlay is because the developer expects the transmission grid operator to study their request and approve it according to the tariff filed at FERC. With so many interconnection queue requests at most RTO’s that are under FERC jurisdiction, as an industry, we are unable to connect the dots and see that it’s the lack of engineers and the lack of creative thought processes to implement short-term solutions that is keeping us from being able to mitigate the queue backlog issue.

For example, take a case where both a transmission owner and an interconnection customer agree on the number of network upgrades needed to interconnect a renewable project request. The interconnection customer is a renewable project developer in this case. This situation is straightforward if there are tens of interconnection requests in any transmission owner footprint. But in today’s current reality, transmission owners are dealing with hundreds of renewable project developer requests. So, the transmission owner needs to be creative in designing a transmission system to accommodate the renewable project developer requests sooner than later without impacting the grid’s reliability.

Yes, the reliability of the transmission grid is important for both RE developer and transmission owner.

Suppose we start with the common assumption that the developer and the transmission owner want reliability to be the primary goal of the transmission grid. In that case, it is in the best interests of both the interconnection customer and the transmission owner to look at grid enhancing technologies to accommodate the interconnection requests while waiting for a detailed transmission study. Since interconnection studies include system impact and feasibility studies, and more intensive facility studies, better served is the industry by including grid enhancing technologies as alternatives to network upgrades in the thermal analysis portion of interconnection studies.

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System stability studies that are part of the facility studies, which are the last stage in any interconnection study, would still need to be performed. And those studies might show a need for the network upgrade, which is usually a new transmission line or a new transformer or a switching station or a substation. However, if we include SmartWires or LineVision types of grid enhancing transmission technologies (GETs), we can squeeze more capacity out of our existing transmission systems while waiting to build a new transmission system.

The headline is, “Advanced Transmission Technologies Shown to Double Regional Renewable Energy Capacity.”

There is evidence that GETs provide value to both interconnection customers and TOs. A report that Working for Advanced Transmission Technologies (WATT) Coalition produced with Brattle Group shows “dynamic line ratings, advanced power flow control, and topology optimization could enable Kansas and Oklahoma to integrate 5,200 MW of wind and solar generation currently in interconnection queues by 2025, more than double the development possible without the technologies.”

We need additional examples from TOs in the MISO and PJM footprint.

RTOs are not the first hurdle to overcome; the TOs are!

For regional transmission organizations to embrace grid enhancing technologies, their member transmission owners should first include these new ideas as alternatives to network upgrades in the interconnection study process. The FERC interconnection tariff at any RTO does not prohibit either the RTO or the transmission owner from looking at network upgrades alone. By thinking creatively, transmission owners can help interconnection customers and drive change at the RTO interconnection queue while addressing the backlog issue. If FERC needs evidence that grid enhancing technologies work, all it needs to see is proof of current implementations at some of the investor-owned utilities and transmission owners who have taken steps to pilot these grid enhancing technologies.

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Transmission owners may find that including GETs in interconnection studies is not in their financial best interests, as their business model is based on investments in new lines. FERC is looking for opportunities to align TO incentives at a technical conference on September 10.

Take SPP TOs as an example.

If we take Southwest Power Pool (SPP) as an example, we learn about the following definitions for network upgrade and interconnection facilities from their generator interconnection tariff. Pay close attention to the words in the bold.

“Network Upgrades shall mean the additions, modifications, and upgrades to the Transmission System required at or beyond the point at which the Interconnection Facilities connect to the Transmission System to accommodate the interconnection of the Generating Facility to the Transmission System.”

And

“Interconnection Facilities shall mean the Transmission Owner’s Interconnection Facilities and the Interconnection Customer’s Interconnection Facilities. Collectively, Interconnection Facilities include all facilities and equipment between the Generating Facility and the Point of Interconnection, including any modification, additions or upgrades that are necessary to physically and electrically interconnect the Generating Facility to the Transmission System. Interconnection Facilities are sole use facilities and shall not include Distribution Upgrades, Stand Alone Network Upgrades or Network Upgrade.”

This blog asserts that grid-enhancing technologies should be considered “additions, modifications, and upgrades to the Transmission System” in definitions of network upgrade and interconnection facilities. Once TOs agree with this definition, they should let the RTO management know by a stakeholder vote. Then, the problem is solved when the RTO interconnection engineer has to re-study if a developer drops out of the queue. The engineer would consider alternatives to network upgrades, resulting in fewer upgrade costs, faster interconnection agreements, and less queue backlog.

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Conclusion

If we’re not creative as an industry and incorporate new emerging technologies in transmission planning, more renewable projects get behind in the interconnection queue. This backlog means neither the transmission owners nor the interconnection customers would interconnect large utility-scale renewable projects. This backlog leads to the off-takers of those renewable projects not able to meet their carbon-free goals. This queue backlog then leads to a lack of jobs that impact economic development in each state. We can nip this problem in the bud right now by creative transmission owners willing to consider grid enhancing technologies as alternatives to expensive network upgrades.

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