Bringing Remote Renewable Energy to Market

Although California is blessed with some of the best geothermal, wind and solar resources in the U.S. — as well as the policies and legislation in place to do take advantage of those resources — a number of the renewable energy-rich areas are too far from the electric transmission grid to render them useful.

In an attempt to alleviate this dilemma, California has formed a public-private partnership called the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) to consider the feasibility of building new transmission lines to access renewable generation. The goal is to bring renewable electricity to the grid as it is generated from isolated areas of the state or possibly adjoining states.

“We’ve made tremendous progress developing the transmission plan to bring electricity from the wind-rich Tehachapi Mountain area to Southern California customers,” explained California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich. “Our goal with RETI is to identify the next Tehachapi.”

RETI is designed to rapidly develop renewable energy to meet the state’s mandate of producing 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010 and goal of 33 percent by 2020. The CPUC, the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator (California ISO) and representatives of publicly owned utilities, including Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and the Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA), are spearheading the initiative.

Transmission lines for electricity from renewable sources becomes critical as predominantly out-of-state coal-fired power plants, which produce approximately 17 percent of California’s electricity, begin to provide a smaller percentage of the state’s electricity as mandated by the Electricity Emissions of Greenhouse Gases (SB 1368, Perata) to reduce greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

“Rapid development of renewable resource areas throughout California is necessary to meet this renewable energy goal,” said Energy Commissioner Jeffrey Byron. “RETI should result in transmission solutions that everyone can agree on to bring renewable energy resources to the grid.”

The initiative will serve to identify major renewable zones to be developed throughout the state. As envisioned, the consortium also plans to rank all renewable rich resource areas in and around the state to establish an order in which transmission lines to these areas should be developed.

In addition RETI will:

• Operate as a stakeholder planning collaborative and will involve a broad range of participants, first to gather information and advice, and then to build active and consensus support for specific plans for renewable energy and related transmission development;
• Work within the existing planning processes at the California ISO, including any modifications to that planning process resulting from compliance with Order No. 890 of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission;

• Support Energy Commission energy policy development, transmission planning, transmission corridor designation, and power plant siting to help facilitate and coordinate the planning and permitting of renewable energy related transmission and generation and minimize duplication of efforts; and

• Work with the publicly-owned utilities (POUs), investor-owned utilities (IOUs), and developers.

Jim Shetler of SMUD said the initiative “will help the municipal utilities gain better access to renewable resources in order to meet both aggressive renewable energy targets and eventual greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

Bill Carnahan of the SPCCA added, “The municipal utilities look forward to adding the output of the RETI effort to our long-term transmission planning process.”

On September 20, the group’s first public forum will meet to bring the sponsors and stakeholders together to discus the initiative and the process.

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