A Mission For Transmission
Despite its importance to wind energy, transmission remains the most under-reported aspect in the renewables segment. And I’m not sure why. Granted, transmission is not a subject that can be easily broached. As soon as the conversation turns to such lofty debates as cost allocation and permitting across state lines, something seems to happen to right-thinking individuals. And don’t even get me started about pancaked transmission rates and the lack of transparent regional spot markets in nearly one-third of the country.
The fact is that there are fewer transmission plans in the works now than a decade ago, when the U.S. wind industry was able to get transmission lines built in Texas, the Northern Plains and the central U.S. Meanwhile, installed wind capacity has not subsided. Do the math. Increased wind and no new transmission means increased instances of congestion and curtailment.
Fortunately, there are workable solutions, some of which involve existing infrastructure and technology. In this month’s cover story, wind industry veteran Rob Gramlich details how the U.S. wind industry can wring out more interconnection using the wires that already exist through the increased use of dynamic line ratings and advanced power flow control. He ought to know after having served in the government, organizations and private industry. For example, Gramlich developed initiatives on renewable energy integration, market design and transmission policy. Most notably, he led the wind industry negotiations on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Orders No. 890, which lessened imbalance charges and created conditional firm transmission service, and No. 661, which established standardized wind interconnection requirements.
Speaking of FERC, Gramlich notes how the federal agency could begin to work to alleviate the constraints, beginning with the recent appointment of four new FERC commissioners. With a few alterations and tweaks to existing policy, Gramlich says the agency can begin to work through transmission’s deep-seated issues. On the flip side, asking the new commissioners to think outside the box isn’t exactly in the FERC job description. Just the same, Gramlich is confident new leadership often brings a fresh perspective to the proceedings and can often overcome the inertia and blind allegiance to the agency’s past. Let’s hope so. Otherwise, it only serves as more evidence to my opening point: When talking about transmission issues, few, if any, are straightforward.