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Americas Energy CEO Series: Brad Jones, New York Independent System Operator CEO

The intersection of public policy and wholesale power markets is among the most important issues currently facing the US power industry, and New York is at the forefront of these developments, New York Independent System Operator's CEO Brad Jones says.

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The NYISO chief weighed in on this and other pressing issues facing the ISO today, including forces affecting market design and price formation, pricing carbon in the wholesale market, transmission constraints and grid resilience.

Jones has more than 30 years of wide-ranging energy industry experience, including grid operations, power plant operations, generation development, project finance, wholesale and retail market design, and regulatory and legislative affairs.

Prior to joining NYISO in 2015, Jones worked at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, where he was a senior vice president and chief operating officer with responsibility for operations, grid planning and commercial operations. Before that, he was ERCOT's vice president for commercial operations.

Jones also worked as an engineer and executive at TXU and as a government affairs executive at Luminant earlier in his career.

The NYISO operates competitive wholesale markets to manage the flow of power throughout New York, from generators to local distribution utilities.

STRONGEST FORCES SHAPING NYISO'S MARKETS

With regard to NYISO market dynamics, Jones finds the grid operator's generation supply mix and public policy initiatives exerting the most pressure.

"As states across the nation enact or consider policy measures to address carbon reduction and environmental policy, and the economic impacts of low natural gas prices have influenced investment decisions, organized markets have seen changes in the mix of generation resources, including traditional baseload assets," he said in an email.

"This has led to pressing questions of how best to incentivize future generation investments, achieve emissions and renewable energy goals, and maintain grid reliability."

Generation resource mix changes, including the 380-MW Huntley and 530-MW Dunkirk coal-fired units taken out of service earlier this year, have left NYISO with 1,755 MW of coal capacity, according to Platts Analytics' Bentek Energy.

The evolving generation portfolio has also contributed to a congested transmission system that "doesn't allow for efficient flow of energy from low-cost renewable resources in the north and west portions of New York State to the downstate load centers in the southeast," Jones said.

This "tale of two grids" with an abundance of clean energy and generating capacity upstate and fossil fuel dependence and high demand downstate is the next most prominent issue for NYISO's system.

"It is also a story of two markets," Jones said. "Energy from growing clean energy resources is unable to reach downstate load centers, suppressing upstate wholesale prices to the point where the economic vitality of generation needed for reliability is jeopardized."

Transmission and deliverability constraints in Zone A, located near Buffalo, sent western New York power prices above downstate prices at times earlier this year, which temporarily tightened historical pricing trends between the two regions.

However, the grid operator is making progress on alleviating transmission constraints, with its board approving NextEra Energy's $181 million 345-kV Empire State Line project on October 17. The new line will "unbottle renewable resources from the Niagara hydroelectric project and from Ontario to bring the clean energy" to eastern and southern New York load centers.

INTEGRATING CARBON PRICES INTO ENERGY MARKETS

NYISO has been a first mover on exploring ways to incorporate carbon into its wholesale markets. The state government has initiated a zero-emissions credit (ZEC) requirement that compensates upstate nuclear plants struggling with depressed wholesale power prices for the value of low-carbon energy they provide. And while NYISO supports the ZEC program, it also supports moving low-carbon emissions reinforcement into the competitive market environment.

"With or without carbon pricing, the State's Clean Energy Standard and decarbonization efforts will impact energy and capacity markets," Jones said.

The state's Clean Energy Standard announced last August mandates 50% of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 and 80% by 2050. NYISO commissioned a study by Brattle Group to evaluate how pricing carbon emissions into generation commitment and dispatch could complement existing state climate goals.

"We are in the very early stages of the carbon pricing effort. The Brattle report has provided a framework and a conceptual design, but we have a lot of work to do," Jones explained. And while the Brattle results are promising, the design is not yet complete, he added.

The system operator will conduct "extensive stakeholder engagement" in an effort to develop a more detailed plan and timetable by this January.

"We know and have heard from [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] that any successful outcome will require broad support from both stakeholders and state government. The message from the Commission at the FERC technical conference [in May about this issue] was clear: We need to find a solution that integrates state policy goals with wholesale market competition."

NYISO'S REACTION TO THE RESILIENCY NOPR

In September, the US Department of Energy issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to FERC seeking new market rules that would provide full cost recovery and a return on investment to generators with 90-day on-site fuel supplies. Market participants have viewed this move to subsidize colal and nuclear plants that have struggled with lower wholesale power prices in recent years as one that could detrimentally impact wholesale power markets.

"New York has a diverse resource mix," Jones said, adding that the state's competitive wholesale markets "have been very successful in driving efficiency, integrating renewable energy and providing affordable and reliable electricity."

"If FERC determines that our markets are not fully valuing resiliency benefits, it should direct the NYISO to work with stakeholders to define the appropriate attributes necessary to address resiliency risks in New York, develop fuel-neutral market mechanisms which value those attributes, and determine the appropriate amount of qualified capacity necessary to address the risks."

FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said Wednesday the commission was on track to meet DOE's December 11 deadline for acting on that proposal. He has expressed a desire for FERC to move forward with an interim solution linked, using a sunset provision, to longer-term analysis that solves broader concerns over grid resilience and baseload generation.

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