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MISO to focus on new grid builds as PJM, North Carolina plan for renewables


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MISO to focus on new grid builds as PJM, North Carolina plan for renewables

The Midcontinent ISO will focus on new builds in a second tranche of long-range transmission expansion projects after maximizing the use of existing rights-of-way in an initial $10.3 billion tranche of projects, MISO CEO John Bear said July 27.

The $10.3 billion slate of projects approved by the 15-state grid operator's board in July 2022 represents the largest portfolio of US grid projects in the country's history. The projects will expand transmission capacity in MISO's North and Central regions, which include North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"One of the things that our designers did, which I think was brilliant in their first tranche, was to use existing rights-of-way as much as possible," Bear said during an industry event hosted by WIRES, a trade group that promotes North American electric transmission expansion.

About 90% of projects in the first tranche, dubbed Tranche 1, use existing rights-of-way, Bear said. Studies have shown that siting transmission lines along existing rights-of-way can dramatically reduce permitting and development timelines.

"I don't know that there's a whole lot more we can do within existing rights-of-way," Bear added.

Looking forward, Tranche 2 — which will also serve MISO's North and Central regions — is expected to primarily consist of new power lines, Bear told WIRES attendees. Tranche 2 will be more challenging, Bear explained, because the new "greenfield" builds will entail taking some existing transmission facilities out of service to optimize power flows.

MISO's modeling for Tranche 2 assumes approximately 369 GW of capacity additions through 2042, largely made up of wind and solar resources. After Tranche 2 is approved, MISO will move to a third tranche of projects in MISO's South region, which covers parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. And a fourth tranche of projects will focus on expanding transmission interties between the North/Central and South regions.

To bring the remaining tranches to fruition, MISO needs a cost allocation scheme that its member states are willing to use, "which I think we're very close on," Bear said. MISO will also need to present a slate of projects to state utility regulators that demonstrate clear benefits, he added.

"We have a great partnership with our state regulators who want to accomplish what we're trying to accomplish," Bear said. "To the extent that we can continue to show them the benefit-to-cost ratios that we've been able to demonstrate, and work together in a transparent way, I think we have what we need."

The 18 projects in Tranche 1 are projected to enable 53 GW of renewable generation and produce a benefit-to-cost ratio of at least 2.2.

Bear said supply chain issues, as well as siting and permitting, are MISO's top concerns. Projects in MISO representing 50 GW of new generation capacity have requested three-year delays despite holding signed interconnection agreements, and about 60% of those projects are experiencing some type of supply chain problem, according to the CEO.

"My guess is that's also going to translate into transmission build-out," Bear said.

PJM, North Carolina tackle planning ahead of final FERC rule

The neighboring PJM Interconnection LLC region, which includes all or part of 13 mid-Atlantic states, is also looking to overhaul its long-term transmission planning process, Ken Seiler, PJM's head of planning, said during a later panel discussion at the WIRES event.

On July 21, PJM kicked off the first in a series of workshops to revisit its long-term transmission planning assumptions and scenarios. PJM and its stakeholders are considering a more extensive list of scenario assumptions that would account for power demand growth from datacenters, heat pumps and electric vehicle charging.

Those efforts align with a proposed rule (RM21-17) issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April 2022 on long-range transmission planning and cost allocation. Following the conclusion of its planning workshops, PJM anticipates filing proposed rule changes with FERC by the end of the year, Seiler said.

"The benefit of that, in terms of getting out ahead of FERC, is that they can see some of the work that's already been done," Seiler said. That could inform a compliance order for PJM assuming FERC issues a final transmission planning rule next year.

Clean energy and environmental groups urged FERC to finalize a strong planning rule as soon as possible after the agency approved a sweeping order on July 27 to overhaul its pro forma generator interconnection rules.

Transmission planning is also top of mind in states such as North Carolina, said Kimberly Duffley, a member of the state's utility commission and co-chair of FERC's federal-state transmission task force. In 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill directing the North Carolina Utilities Commission to develop a plan to cut carbon pollution 70% by 2030 and achieve full carbon neutrality by 2050.

"The first thing that North Carolina did is we encouraged companies to move from a reactive transmission planning process, where they're just reacting based on load and interconnection requests, to a proactive transmission planning scheme," Duffley said.

The commission in December 2022 approved a compliance plan for Duke Energy Progress LLC and Duke Energy Carolinas LLC to complete 14 transmission upgrades in a solar-rich area in the eastern part of the state known as "the red zone." The projects will facilitate the interconnection of approximately 3,759 MW of solar generating facilities in the Duke Energy Corp. subsidiaries' service territories.

"I think the idea that you should sit on your hands and wait for FERC to take action wastes critical time and also misunderstands the intention of FERC rulemaking," said Pamela Quinlan, a principal at the consulting firm GQ New Energy Strategies who was previously FERC's chief of staff.

FERC rules "have a really important role, but I wouldn't think of them as the ceiling of what should be accomplished," Quinlan said. "It's the floor of what really needs to be getting done."

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