Report examines how to improve transmission processes to better deploy renewable energy

Published on March 29, 2021 by Dave Kovaleski

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A new report from Concentric Energy Advisors on regional and interregional transmission planning in the Great Plains, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic reveals how the current processes impede the development of low-cost renewable power.

The analysis, commissioned by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) as part of the Macro Grid Initiative, identifies the major deficiencies and potential solutions for greater renewable deployment in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), and the PJM Interconnection (PJM). The report was also done in coordination with the American Clean Power Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“America’s transmission system is in need of a 21st-century makeover if we’re going to have any shot at achieving the level of renewable deployment necessary to address our climate challenge,” ACORE President and CEO Gregory Wetstone said. “The current transmission planning processes in these regions are not working to deliver the affordable clean energy that states, businesses, and consumers are demanding.”

The findings were based on interviews with key market participants and stakeholders in SPP, MISO, and PJM. Among the findings, researchers found that “centrally coordinated” planning at the interregional and regional transmission organization (RTO) levels is needed to identify the areas where untapped renewable energy resources exist. It is also needed to develop cost-efficient paths for transmission infrastructure development to deliver renewable resources to load centers.

Also, it found that interregional transmission planning should rely on either a unified national interregional planning model or regional models where the planning objectives, assumptions, benefit metrics, and cost allocation methodologies are aligned. This will allow officials to assess the benefits and costs of interregional transmission projects. Further, planning models and/or processes should better reflect the real-time operations and economics of generation resources. The report also said that competitive processes would benefit from more coordinated planning where resource zones are identified.

In addition, the analysis said reasonable expectations of renewable resource expansion should be integrated into “futures” assumptions in transmission planning studies. This should include forecasts for future storage, renewables, and gas generation additions — as well as fossil fuel plant retirements. Also, metrics used to assess the benefit of projects should be expanded and standardized across regions, and cost allocation for generator interconnection upgrades should be shared with interconnecting generators based on a fair allocation of benefits.

“The report identifies areas where transmission planning processes in SPP, MISO, and PJM could be upgraded to better integrate the significant amount of wind, solar, and battery storage projects under development,” Julie Lieberman, senior project manager, Concentric Energy Advisors and lead author of the report, said. “Our interview subjects were nearly unanimous in expressing the view that more centrally coordinated regional planning and improved interregional planning would help identify and implement transmission solutions that allow more low-cost renewable resources to come online.”

Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, said transmission development is essential to an affordable, reliable, and clean electric system.

“The U.S. has long lagged behind in updating our grid to the needs of the 21st century, to the detriment of everyday electric consumers. American homes and businesses will win if we modernize our electricity transmission system by coming together to improve the planning and permitting process for these needed grid improvements,” Zichal said.

Rob Gramlich, executive director, Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, added that the report outlines best practices that some RTOs are beginning to adopt.

“We hope states and stakeholders in these regions support larger regional and interregional planning following these recommended practices,” Gramlich said.