- The heads of the New York and California electric grids said Wednesday that a combination of new transmission — to move renewable power over long distances — along with the addition of more local grid resources and market improvements, will be required to fully decarbonize the nation's power sector.
- But adding that new transmission in a timely manner will require a suite of policy improvements, according to Jonathan Weisgall, vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs at Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Speaking at the gridCONNEXT virtual conference, he said transmission developers need greater certainty so that projects can be brought to market quickly.
- Also on Wednesday, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) unveiled a new strategic plan that includes a "vast, improved transmission network across the state." In April, New York became first state to establish a siting office in an effort to speed up transmission and renewables deployment.
The development of new transmission resources is one key to decarbonization, according to Angelina Galiteva, chair of the California Independent System Operator (ISO). But "there are lots of solutions" also, including the development of more efficient markets and harnessing demand flexibility and other local resources, she said at gridCONNEXT.
"We need to be pushing more towards renewables and diversification, to ensure we continue on a path to provide reliable power while we are decarbonizing," Galiteva said.
California is targeting a carbon-free electric sector by 2045, and to meet those targets the grid operator is expecting it will need to accommodate 8,500 MW of new wind; 75,000 MW of new utility-scale solar; 25,000 MW of new behind-the-meter solar; and 55,000 MW of new storage
"The technology is there, the capabilities are there," Galiteva said. "For us, the focus is on imports and ensuring we have imports at critical hours," particularly during the state's peak demand from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Improving imports will require new transmission and the continued development of new markets such as the ISO's voluntary energy imbalance market, she said.
Similar challenges exist in New York, which is targeting 70% renewable energy by 2030 and a carbon-free electric system by 2040. The state's grid operator has "an important planning role" in reaching those targets, New York ISO President and CEO Rich Dewey said at the Wednesday conference.
The grid operator has studied what a potential resource mix might look like to achieve 70% renewables, and Dewey said it is "very achievable" through a mix of wind, solar and batteries. "The more interesting question is, how do you get to the carbon-free electric system by 2040? We don't have all the technologies in place to do that," he said.
Part of the solution, he said, will come from markets sending accurate investment signals. At the same time, the state is taking steps to speed the development of new transmission.
The ISO is also considering a carbon pricing proposal, that would integrate a social cost of carbon into dispatch prices to "provide a sharp investment signal," Dewey said. The grid operator will continue working to ensure that investment signal is incentivizing "the right kind of resources at the right location on the grid," he said.
"We need to improve transmission infrastructure to move renewables resources, which are increasingly going to be sited in the northern and western part of New York," Dewey said. Already, New York is curtailing wind power at "modest levels," he said. Bottlenecks are developing, but fortunately the state has recognized this.
NYPA "has aggressively jumped in and identified priority projects," Dewey said.
The public power organization said Wednesday that its new plan includes a focus on transmission development along with enabling 325 MW of distributed and customer-sited solar by 2025 and 450 MW of storage projects by 2030.
Barriers to development
Berkshire Hathaway Energy's Weisgall warned that transmission developers across the country need greater certainty to develop projects. "Not a guaranteed outcome, just a guaranteed process," he said.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy owns more than 26,000 miles of transmission lines in the United States and several utilities serving customers primarily in the West. The company's Energy Gateway transmission project includes eight segments, four of which are now in service. The Gateway South portion, Weisgall noted, took "upwards of 11 years" to complete.
"If you love renewables, you better like transmission," Weisgall said. But there is a "chicken and egg" conundrum in many areas, where renewables developers balk at building projects in areas with no transmission — and vice versa.
"Why build a transmission line if you don't have the renewable energy facilities in place that need it?" Long timelines must also be addressed, he said.
"We've got to improve the business case for more transmission investment. We've got to do that at FERC, in Congress and in the states," said Weisgall.
Weisgall said streamlined siting processes would help the development of projects, along with firm deadlines and a single point of contact for developers. He also warned against applying new standards to pending applications, potentially creating a situation where plans need to be revised multiple times as reviews stretch into years.
"We've got to recognize the value of increased resilience and lower emissions," said Weisgall. "We've got to look at socializing some of the transmission costs, possibly though a federal transmission investment tax credit."