Grid owners and planners in Southwest Power Pool, during an April 7 webinar, emphasized preparedness and the growing need to put a value on the resilience provided by the grid as the power industry embarks on transitioning to a clean energy economy.
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"We're certainly at a pivotal moment in our country for transforming our energy generation and consumption, and it's going to take some preparation in order for us to deliver on that," Peggy Simmons, president and chief operating officer for the Public Service Company of Oklahoma, said during the webinar hosted by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid.
Lanny Nickell, SPP's executive vice president and chief operating officer, added that planning for the likelihood of more frequent one-in-100-year severe weather events will force the power sector "to start figuring out how to put a value around the resilience that the grid provided us in February and will likely continue to do."
SPP spans 14 states in the middle of the country, a footprint that was enveloped by an Arctic blast in February that caused the grid operator to issue load shedding instructions across the entire region for the first time in its 80 years of operations.
"The transmission that we had in place allowed us to import up to about 6,000 MW of energy from our neighbors, and without that ability to do so, we would have been in much worse shape and would have had to shed much more load," Nickell said, noting that the maximum amount of load shed during that severe winter weather event was about 6.5% of total load at the time.
SPP, over the last decade, has directed more than $8 billion in investment for transmission infrastructure, not counting transmission owners' spending to refurbish their systems and deal with aging infrastructure, and intends to invest "a couple billion more," Nickell said. "And because of the strength of our grid, we've been able to reliably integrate the renewables that we have."
Nickell boasted that SPP has exceeded 22 GW of wind production and is experiencing 82% wind penetration, a record among regional transmission organizations.
In addition to a robust transmission system, Nickell said geographic diversity and a diverse resource portfolio, including 14 GW of quick-start, fast-ramping gas resources, have helped to reliably integrate renewables resources in the region.
"And we're not done," he said, pointing to a little over 35 GW of solar and a little less than 35 GW of wind in SPP's generator interconnection queue. "I do expect we're going to continue to see growth in renewables, so we're going to have to make sure that we continue to have the right resources that are available when we need them and that can respond quickly," he said. Electric storage resources could take on that role, as SPP has about 9 GW of storage in its interconnection queue although not much of that resource has been integrated into the grid yet.
"We're going to need a lot of resources and a lot of tools, and transmission is certainly a big, big part of that toolbox and a tool that we've been able to rely upon to help us keep the lights on," he said.
Simmons said that utility regulators and policymakers also need to understand the importance of preparedness and the advantages "of doing something now versus waiting till later and reacting to it."
"We need to do more scenario planning," she said. "These events ... may be once-in-100-year events, but we cannot treat it as that's what's going to be the case," especially given the economic loss customers face any time the power goes out.
"The more that we can identify what can be done now to prepare for some of that, to be able to put a value on that and to put some regulatory or legislative processes in place to effect that, I think the better off we're going to be," Simmons said. "But I don't think that being reactionary is how we should be planning for events moving forward."
She added that there were opportunities to build new, long-haul transmission infrastructure, even without federal backstop authority or other legislative changes to ease siting challenges.
"Right now, a lot of our investment is based upon improving and modernizing what we do have, but as far as building new transmission," success will come from engaging the community, she said.
Absent legislative solutions, developers just have to work "through each of the state commissions and help to put the case forward of what the benefit of that transmission investment is to that community and to that state, and how it helps to enable a more clean energy economy that people are looking for right now," Simmons said. It's also about "helping to show that transmission is going to enable and allow us to withstand some of those more severe weather events that may come along. It's really a matter of articulating what that value is and hoping to communicate it effectively."