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US DOE advisory board recommends prioritizing links between East, West grids


Lack of interregional planning cited

Distribution, energy storage targeted

  • Author
  • John Siciliano
  • Editor
  • Christopher Newkumet
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition Metals

A high-level group of advisers to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has approved recommendations that the federal government lead efforts to plan an interconnected, interregional US transmission system to help spur the transition to more renewables.

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In a unanimous Jan. 24 vote, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, or SEAB, approved a number of budget recommendations that would fund plans to create a grid that links the Eastern and Western interconnections.

The SEAB Grid Modernization Working Group that drafted the recommendations was co-led by former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Norman Bay, appointed to that position by former President Barack Obama.

Joining him as co-chair of the working group is Michael Skelly, CEO of Grid United. A merchant transmission company, Grid United, is developing five transmission projects aimed at creating a new long-distance, interregional transmission system to ensure access to low-cost clean energy.

Ahead of the vote, Skelly said prioritizing interregional projects "will help compensate for a lack of interregional planning that we see, really, throughout the country. ... Different [regional transmission operators] do not do a great job of planning connections between the RTOs."

Skelly asserted that FERC's landmark Order 1000 failed to spur such planning. Thus, he said the DOE can address "the interregional failure in the planning process" by prioritizing funding for projects that enhance interregional ties. These projects, Skelly went on to say, would be most helpful during extreme weather events, for the integration of new resources, and for alleviating pollution impacting vulnerable communities.

Although the recommendations were not immediately made public, the description provided by Skelly and working group members appeared to focus on the $2.5 billion the DOE was given under the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law to fund interregional transmission projects.

Resource allocation questions

The recommendations also come as the DOE is preparing its fiscal year 2024 budget request, to be released in the coming months. Bay said that from a "resource allocation perspective, we believe that most DOE reliability and resilience funding should support interregional transmission, as well as distribution solutions that enhance reliability and resilience flexibility to the grid."

"You can think of interregional flexibility as ... the backbone of the system ... and the value of interregional transmission was certainly made clear during the recent Winter Storm Elliott" that caused widespread outages over the Christmas 2022 holiday, Bay said.

The recommendations do not stop at interstate transmission lines under FERC's jurisdiction. Bay said the group also wants to see distribution line improvements because "most outages occur at the distribution level."

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, suggested that artificial intelligence and other advanced computing should be used to evaluate grid vulnerabilities. "And it's important that this happen with the [RTOs] and distribution service organizations" through the DOE providing key technical support, Jackson said.

The SEAB is also recommending that the DOE fund other initiatives to help further develop markets, demand-side management, longer-term energy storage, and better modeling of changing generation mixes, Bay added.

Paula Gold-Williams, former president and CEO of City Public Service of San Antonio, known as CPS Energy, asserted that long-duration storage is "absolutely critical" in making solar a more effective renewable resource. She said although lithium-ion batteries can be somewhat helpful when it comes to integrating renewables with storage, they only have a duration of four hours, which is far from adequate.

Gold-Williams said the group also sees pumped-storage hydropower as a "good option" for longer-duration storage despite being limited by drought conditions. The SEAB also wants the DOE labs to have more funding to help crack the code on long-duration storage by finding ways to lower its costs and improve overall efficiency, she said.