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FERC greenlights new ISO-NE transmission rules aimed at boosting competition

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved tariff changes requested by the ISO New England designed to increase competition among transmission developers.

FERC signed off on the changes on Dec. 10 as the ISO-NE prepares to hold its first competitive transmission solicitation later this month to address needs in the Boston, Mass., area, although a firm date for the solicitation has yet to be decided. The ISO-NE is the last grid operator to hold a competitive transmission solicitation in response to FERC's Order 1000, which was issued in 2011 and opened the doors for competitive transmission developers to participate in regional transmission planning.

Originally submitted in October, the tariff revisions grew out of the ISO-NE's six-state stakeholder process conducted through the New England Power Pool. Among numerous changes, the revisions clarify that selected transmission project developers may propose solutions that include an upgrade on a different transmission owner's existing system. The revisions also require the inclusion of estimated installed costs, a description of the project's financing, and any cost containment or cost cap measures as part of the first phase of a transmission proposal.

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FERC approved the changes (FERC docket ER20-92) over a limited protest filed by the Connecticut Attorney General's Office, which supported the revisions but criticized the ISO-NE for stating that it will not consider what are known as non-transmission alternatives in the solicitation.

Citing a 2018 discussion paper by the Brattle Group that estimated noncompetitive transmission projects in the ISO-NE have experienced cost overruns of up to 70%, the state's top consumer watchdog argued the solicitation should be open to proposals such as Eversource Energy's proposed 1.7-MW lithium-ion battery in Westmoreland, N.H. That $7 million storage facility is one of multiple projects the Springfield, Mass.-based utility is pursuing as alternatives to building or upgrading transmission networks.

However, FERC said in its Dec. 10 order that the Connecticut attorney general office's arguments were outside the scope of the proceeding. Meanwhile, the ISO-NE is one of three grid operators subject to a FERC investigation into whether certain transmission projects are being improperly excluded from the competitive bidding process under certain reliability exemptions (FERC docket EL19-90).

The state attorney general's office indicated in its protest that it plans to intervene in that proceeding, as well.