California stakeholders welcomed the selection of Elliot Mainzer, head of Oregon's Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), as the new president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) last week, saying his experience operating a large transmission system, decarbonization efforts and collaborative style make him a good fit for the role.
- Mainzer's selection comes after "a highly competitive nationwide search" by the CAISO Board of Governors. The board is "happy to have a leader so knowledgeable about integrating renewables and passionate about building on CAISO's organizational strengths and momentum toward low-carbon electricity," according to their statement.
Mainzer's experience integrating renewables during his time at BPA makes him well suited to address the challenges California will face in the future in a way that is sensitive to political and policy realities, Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, said. "With everything else out there, this was good news."
Most of CAISO's heads have helped shepherd it through various stages of energy history — like California's 2000-2001 energy crisis, the subsequent stabilization and a shift to nodal pricing, Alex Morris, executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) said. The current CAISO CEO Steve Berberich, who will retire on Sept. 30, headed the operator during a period that was characterized largely by renewables integration.
"Looking at Mr. Mainzer's tenure, he's going to take over at a time when the grid is really going to start to operate in a way that's actually reflective of a lot of storage and a lot of renewables," Morris said. "I think that's going to be a pretty interesting challenge — but doable."
Mainzer spent 18 years at BPA, during which he addressed issues related to large-scale renewables integration, the company said in a press release. He enabled BPA to connect more than 5,000 MW of wind to its transmission system, and worked on a strategic plan to bolster its financial strength as well as modernize its grid to adapt to changing energy markets. BPA also achieved its strongest safety performance ever during his leadership, according to the company.
"I am grateful to have the opportunity to lead the creative and innovative team at CAISO and to enable California to reliably and safely achieve its ambitious clean energy and climate goals," Mainzer said in a press release, adding that he looks forward to building on the success of the Western Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) and strengthening regional coordination.
The EIM Governing Body said in a statement that Mainzer brings "exceptional leadership experience, wide-ranging contacts and inclusive strategic thinking to the CEO position."
Mainzer's leadership has been critical to BPA's decarbonization success, Ralph Cavanagh, energy co-director of the climate and clean energy program at Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email. The BPA head brings with him a deep understanding of how to integrate large infusions of renewable resources as well as a commitment to energy efficiency innovation, among other things, Cavanagh said.
"Every section of the vast western grid is now engaged in an accelerating clean energy transition, thanks in part to Elliot's Northwest leadership. He arrives at CAISO knowing better than anyone else how to mobilize grid resources to support that transition, and how to ensure reliable and affordable electricity service in the process," he added.
Mainzer has a significant amount of market experience, as well as experience operating a large multi-state transmission system, making him "uniquely suited" to head CAISO, according to Smutny-Jones.
While at BPA, Mainzer worked with the wind industry and other parties to handle the transmission-related issues that cropped up from the large influx of wind energy, according to Smutny-Jones — a skillset that will come in handy as California moves towards aggressive climate goals.
"The biggest challenge is going to be making sure that we build out the transmission system sufficiently to meet the future energy needs of California and we do so in a way that's focused on affordability," Smutny-Jones said.
Mainzer also comes on board as California anticipates a host of storage resources coming online over the next decade, CESA's Morris said, "and making sure their market systems allow for proper pricing and use of storage is going to be key."
There are also opportunities and challenges related to the Western EIM, which, by the end of July, had provided $1 billion in economic benefits since its creation in 2014. Increasing amounts of clean energy have also led to carbon dioxide emission reductions of 533,381 metric tons. Ten new balancing authorities are expected to enter the EIM by 2022, at which point it will serve 82% of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council's load, according to CAISO. The operator is also in the midst of a stakeholder process to create an Extended Day-Ahead Market for EIM participants.
"The market initiatives definitely give Elliot a challenge and opportunity both to foster trust, make market initiatives more inclusive and promote independence, which is very important so regional stakeholders can effectively participate," Vijay Satyal, senior energy market policy analyst at the Western Resources Advocates, said.