- As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission considers sweeping transmission rule changes, Commissioner Mark Christie said fixing the "chaos" of the interconnection process is a top priority for him and an issue that could be tackled early in the reform process.
- Interconnection reform could bring immediate benefits, partly by advancing proposed facilities that are close to being ready to move forward, Christie said Wednesday during the American Council on Renewable Energy's Virtual Grid Forum. That might mean letting projects with power purchase agreements, site control and financing move ahead of more speculative projects, he said.
- FERC might tackle reforms to transmission planning, cost allocation and grid interconnections in pieces instead of proposing a single rule, Elizabeth Salerno, the commission's lead on transmission and technology initiatives, said, noting the scope of the agency's effort is massive and there is "urgency to chip away at the block."
With FERC considering changes to its transmission rules, Christie said fixing the interconnection process could bring quick benefits, partly because work has already been done on the issue.
For the last several years, backlogs in interconnection queues have grown to 950 GW as proposed power projects — mainly solar, wind and storage — await the results of studies showing what transmission system upgrades are needed to bring the generating facilities online. The process of getting through the studies is complex and can take years, delaying and, in some cases, killing potential projects.
Christie, one of FERC's four sitting commissioners, said reforming the queue process is a priority for him.
"I think that it's something that we could do fairly early in the process, and I would hope we would, because I think it's the place where ... you can get immediate pain relief," Christie said. "If you look over the broad sweep of all the issues that are teed up, I think queue reform is something where there could be some real progress, because I think there's some ideas that would make the queue more rational. And let's face it, there are projects that are much more ready to go than others, and those projects shouldn't be held up."
It may make sense to let generation developers share the cost of required transmission upgrades instead of having the first project that comes online be solely responsible for those expenses, according to Christie.
Currently, the transmission system is effectively being built out via the grid interconnection process on a project-by-project basis, Salerno said, noting that responses to FERC's request for comments on its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking indicates broad support for a forward-looking, regional transmission planning approach.
That process would likely map out possible transmission plans that could help meet state and corporate energy goals as well as consumer demand, Salerno said.
Any new planning process needs to lead to stakeholder buy-in for new transmission projects, according to Salerno.
"Ultimately, people need to be on board with planning for these lines, selecting these lines to construct and then paying for these lines, and so the beginning step of how we plan really matters," Salerno said.
The current transmission planning process lacks adequate state and stakeholder participation, according to Danielle Fidler, an Earthjustice senior attorney. It also has incentives that lead utilities to build local projects instead of regional projects, Fidler said.
"The failure to plan ahead with the transmission system for the clean energy development to connect [to the grid] really threatens both the public policy requirements, but it also threatens reliability in the face of increasingly frequent extreme weather events and it really burdens customers with inefficient transmission," Fidler said.
Currently, transmission development involves a patchwork of federal, state and grid operator oversight, according to Shashank Sane, Invenergy executive vice president for transmission.
"I don't think it's realistic to think that we're going to move away from that patchwork approach," Sane said. "I think the key, though, is that all of those various constituents are working together and coming together to balance the needs of each party."
In a key aspect of FERC's transmission reform efforts, a joint task force with the National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissions (NARUC) meets on Nov. 10 for the first time.
"The joint federal-state task force with NARUC and the state commissions, it's a critical piece where you can have this dialogue with the states and understand the biggest challenges, possible solutions, and that can help inform a lot of things, but certainly inform this [transmission reform] process," Salerno said.