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MISO board approves $3.3 billion in transmission projects

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2019 operating budget also gets green light

Houston — To cope with an increasingly diversified, decentralized generation fleet, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator board on Thursday approved $3.3 billion in transmission enhancement projects, including two interregional projects with PJM Interconnection.

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MISO Transmission Expansion Plan 18 comprised 442 new projects, and the 10 largest include five in the MISO South region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and five in the North and Central regions, which includes all or parts of 10 Midwest and northern Great Plains states.

Several of the projects presented drew opposition from stakeholders. Some expressed concern that a project should be considered a distribution-level project, not part of the main transmission backbone. However, after considering and responding to various comments, the board voted to approve MTEP 18 as MISO staff submitted it.

"We haven't come to consensus on all of the projects," CEO John Bear said. "That doesn't bother me, and I don't think it bothers Chairwoman Penner."

Audrey Penner, Manitoba Hydro market access and regulatory affairs officer, chairs the MISO Advisory Committee, MISO's highest-level stakeholder committee.

MISO has followed a rigorous stakeholder process, Bear said, "and it's not going to get any easier in terms of the items we have to address."

TRANSMISSION PLANNING

The Advisory Committee on Wednesday conducted an extended debate about long-term transmission planning, which Penner said Thursday was "excellent."

Wednesday's discussion focused on the role transmission should play in ensuring continued reliability, market efficiency and resilience as the resource mix changes, and whether substantial change is needed with regard to long-term planning.

Since 2008, about 14 GW of MISO's generation fleet has retired, most of it fossil fuel-fired, while renewable capacity additions are approaching 20 GW, according to a written presentation submitted to the committee by Aubrey Johnson, MISO executive director of system planning and competitive transmission.

Another 79 GW of generation capacity is in the interconnection queue, of which 89% is evenly divided between wind and solar resources. A speaker in Wednesday's meeting who was not identified for conference call listeners but who said he spoke for end-use customer groups, said end-use customers see no need for substantial change.

"We always get concerned with big projects ... that can lead to subsidies that are socialized over the footprint," he said, expressing concern that a revamped long-term transmission plan "picks winners and losers."

But another speaker who was not identified said MISO's footprint is the most diverse in North America, and "one of the goals of regional transmission is to encourage a geographic diversity of resources."

"I think that whatever process that arises is going to need to focus on how we develop those benefits," he said, adding that this necessarily "implies a top-down, not a bottom-up piecemeal approach."

Another speaker who was not identified noted that MISO initiated its Multi-Value Project planning process in 2011.

"I agree that the conditions under which we are studying long-term transmission needs is different today than they were when we did the MVP's," he said, but MISO's leaders frequently hear such "mixed messages" about how the process should change "that they do nothing."

But he said: "Not doing something is not an option."

In contrast, Megan Wisersky, Madison (Wisconsin) Gas and Electric electric planning manager, asked: "What if customers have had enough transmission expansion?"

"What customers see are rising bills," Wisersky said. "What if the answer to that is less transmission and more distribution and more distribution-related connections? ... Perhaps the role of transmission is less because you have encouraged people to go to more distribution-level resources."

2019 BUDGET

In addition to approving MTEP 18, the board on Wednesday approved the grid operator's 2019 budget, which leaves the tariff rate charged to members unchanged at 40 cents/MWh, and is designed to provide $299.8 million, down from $306 million in 2018. MISO's operating budget, which includes other sources of income, projects spending of $312.6 million, down about 2.8% from 2018.

MISO's 2019 capital budget totals $27.2 million, down from 2018's $29.6 million. MISO is in the process of implementing a Market System Enhancement project, which is expected to cost about $10.7 million in 2019, down from $10.8 million in 2018.

-- Mark Watson, markham.watson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com