Grid-enhancing technologies offer the cheapest and easiest way to quickly increase capacity on the grid, but utility regulators need to require transmission owners to use them, Allison Clements, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commissioner, said Monday.
“These are modest investments, they're going to save customers money … and if we don't tell the transmission owners to do it, they're not going to do it,” Clements said during the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ annual meeting in La Quinta, California.
Grid-enhancing technologies include dynamic line ratings that use sensors to monitor transmission lines as well as power-flow control devices and analytical tools.
“Let's together require the transmission-owning utilities to use them and then let's encourage them or … figure out ways that help them overcome some of the barriers that they have to getting it done,” Clements told state utility regulators.
For-profit utilities have a financial incentive to invest in transmission lines and other capital projects on which they can earn a rate of return rather than in less expensive options like grid-enhancing technologies.
Grid-enhancing technologies can squeeze more juice out of existing grid systems, Clements. “The investments are modest, and the impacts are significant,” she said, pointing to a PPL Electric Utilities project in Pennsylvania.
Instead of rebuilding or reconductoring two 230-kV lines, PPL spent less than $300,000 installing sensors on the lines, according to Clements. The utility saved about $50 million in costs and immediately started saving about $20 million in annual congestion costs, she said.
Average “normal” capacity ratings on one line increased about 18% and on the other line increased about 19% while “emergency” ratings on the first line increased about 9% and on the second line about 17%, according to an April presentation on the project. Congestion costs in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 winters on one line fell from more than $60 million to about $1.6 million.
“We need to make the utilities, who have this great opportunity to invest in new transmission, do it smartly, together with this grid-enhancing technology opportunity,” Clements said.
On a longer-term effort, FERC continues to review comments on its regional transmission planning and cost allocation proposal, according to Clements.
The proposal aims to give states “a seat at the table” in determining how the costs of new transmission should be shared, Clements said.
However, she said she is concerned that a single state could block transmission projects because they don’t want to pay for their neighbors’ transmission.
One way to avoid single-state vetoes is to focus on the principle that costs are shared based on how much a party benefits from the new transmission, according to Clements.
“That provides protection for states that are concerned about paying for other states’ benefits,” she said. “If we double down on that principle, and stick with it, we can protect states while allowing for the myriad of benefits that any particular transmission line might provide, or set of lines might provide.”
After FERC issues a regional transmission planning rule, the agency can focus on solutions for interregional planning, according to Clements.