Transmission planning is the process of planning and implementing the most reliable and cost-effective ways to move power from where it is generated to, ultimately, our homes and businesses. The Sustainable FERC Project is engaged in transmission planning activities across the country because when done correctly, it can significantly improve environmental quality and support rather than frustrate clean energy policies and economic development.
At a very high level, planning is a two-part process: identifying electric grid needs and then developing solutions to meet those needs. Grid planners take into account many different factors affecting the grid’s current and future operation, including predicted customer demand, existing and planned power plants, state and federal environmental and clean energy standards, grid reliability issues, and the costs of moving power around the grid. Based on these and other factors, transmission owners and grid planners determine whether they need to upgrade existing, and build new, power lines.
Regional Planning Is Key
In some regions of the country, utilities and other transmission owners have formed “regional transmission organizations (RTOs) or “independent system operators” (ISOs). The utilities in each RTO and ISO have agreed to allow the RTO or ISO to serve as the transmission planner and grid operator on behalf of all the member utilities.
When an RTO predicts a new grid need through its planning process, it works with its member utilities and other stakeholders to devise a transmission solution, or, less often, a “non-wires alternative” solution such as more energy efficiency or demand response.
In much of the West and Southeast, utilities don’t participate in RTOs and historically they’ve done local planning and little more. However, times are changing. FERC’s landmark 2011 rule called “Order 1000” requires every public utility transmission provider to participate in a regional planning process and coordinate their planning with neighboring regions.
A Level Playing Field
The Federal Power Act, administered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), requires planners responsible for transmission planning to consider cost-effective alternatives to transmission – like power plants, energy efficiency, energy storage, small-scale “distributed generation” like rooftop solar and demand response (customer reductions in electricity use based on price signals and directions from grid operators). Many of these non-transmission alternatives are cleaner and cost less than new transmission lines. In practice, it is not always the case that transmission planners provide true “comparable consideration” to transmission alternatives.
Our Priorities: Integrating Public Policies and Non-Transmission Alternatives into the Planning Process
The Sustainable FERC Project participates in transmission planning processes across the country to ensure that RTOs and other grid planners:
- account for the need to deliver renewable energy power from often-remote areas to customers,
- account for existing and planned energy efficiency and distributed generation throughout the region that reduce load forecasts and in some cases, avoid or delay new transmission,
- consider alternatives to transmission lines that may defer or avoid the need for new transmission, including demand response, new energy efficiency, energy storage and/or distributed generation; and
- do not extend unnecessarily the life of otherwise uneconomic coal and oil-fired power plants for unfounded grid reliability purposes.
FERC Order 1000’s Impact on Planning
Over the past few years, FERC’s Order 1000 has provided an opportunity to further each of our priorities. Order 1000 requires transmission planners to engage in affirmative regional planning and produce a regional plan that addresses reliability, congestion, and public policy needs. Order 1000 also requires all grid planning regions to coordinate their regional plans with their neighboring regions and to develop regional and interregional cost allocation formulas to pay for new transmission projects. Our coalition is helping regional transmission planners satisfy the order’s requirements. Our library contains the written comments of the Sustainable FERC Project coalition to FERC and the regional planning organizations on the Order 1000 compliance process.