Utilities, ISOs Reflect on Transmission in Light of EPA’s Clean Power Plan

On what effect the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan will have on transmission development in the country, including potentially a need for more transmission to transport added renewable energy, Frank Poirot, senior media specialist of transmission with Northeast Utilities (NYSE:NU) told TransmissionHub that increasing the grid’s capacity to transmit power is one way to meet the growing need and enable renewable generation.

“Northeast Utilities’ transmission upgrades connect customers to modern, state-of-the-art generation plants, while reducing the need to run older, less-efficient power plants,” he said.

Poirot also noted that customers served by Northeast Utilities have been benefitting from transmission upgrades for more than 10 years. “Not only do these upgrades improve system reliability, they also provide the region’s electricity customers with the infrastructure that is critical to a healthy economy, as well as access to cleaner, competitively priced energy sources,” he said.

The EPA on June 2 released its long-anticipated and much-debated plan to control greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

The centerpiece of the Obama administration plan requires states to draft plans designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The CO2 control program will bring about several co-benefits, including cutting nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent, EPA said.

EPA said the goals can be accomplished through a combination of power plant improvements, generating more electricity from renewable energy or low-carbon sources and greater use of energy efficiency measures.

On projects that the company is working on that may facilitate the transport of renewable energy, Poirot said that the Northern Pass transmission project is poised to help the New England states meet carbon reduction goals by contributing a significant source of low-carbon hydropower to the grid.

“This energy has the potential to cut carbon emissions in the area by up to 5 million tons annually by replacing fossil fuels,” he said. “What’s more, Northern Pass is several years along in the permitting process. These are key points when you consider the current energy supply crisis and the guidelines the EPA has set going forward.”

On how the EPA’s plan affects the company in terms of Northeast Utilities and its Public Service of New Hampshire(PSNH) power generation facilities, Martin Murray, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire subsidiary, told TransmissionHub: “The Northeast region is ahead of the curve as far as efforts to reduce emissions of carbon, and we expect that, moving forward, New Hampshire will continue to take a shared approach with other states in the region. It is clear from the EPA’s announcement that it recognizes and appreciates that collaboration.”

New Hampshire has participated since 2009 in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based solution that caps and reduces CO2 emissions, he said, noting that by the company’s calculations, the RGGI region has already reduced carbon emission by about 40% compared to 2005. 

Carbon emissions from the PSNH power plant fleet in 2013 were 70 percent less than the company’s 2005 emissions, he said, noting there are two coal units at the Merrimack station; two at the Schiller Station; and one oil and/or gas at the Newington station. 

“We recognize that new sources of clean, economic energy are needed if we are to reduce our reliance, over time, on existing fossil fuel power plants,” Murray said. “Meantime, our existing facilities will continue to play a vital role in meetingcustomer demand for reliable and economic power.”

On the effect the plan will have on transmission development in the country, including potentially a need for more transmission to transport additional renewable energy, Ed White, vice president of customer strategy and environmental with National Grid USA, in comments provided to TransmissionHub, said: “We will continue to need a modern, resilient transmission system to provide reliable access to new cleaner generation resources like renewables. Transmission project development will continue to be important to fulfill this need.”

White noted that the company is partnering with Clean Line Energy Partners to develop HVDC transmission that would connect “the best renewable energy resources in North America to communities and cities that lack access to renewable power.”

White added that National Grid is working on transmission enhancements in New York and New England to strengthen the ability to deliver cleaner energy to customers in those regions.

White said it is hard to say specifically what regions are more likely to benefit from the potential added transmission due to the EPA plan, adding, “[B]ut we would expect that regions that rely a lot on coal resources, or that would benefit from additional generation diversity, will be looking closer at the transmission requirements to deliver cleaner generation resources.”

In a June 2 statement, National Grid said it has long supported efforts to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from its footprint, and has established reduction goals of 45% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, from 1990 baseline levels. Due in large part to investments in its electricity generation operations, natural gas and electricity distribution networks, National Grid’s total emissions in the United States have decreased by 65% from 1990 to 2013.

“I am strongly encouraged by EPA’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions through sensible and practical regulation,” National Grid US President Tom King said in the statement. “The Obama Administration, through the good work of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her staff, has worked in a transparent manner to craft regulation that promotes environmental and human health through a host of clean energy options. Rather than picking winners, this proposed rule supports market-based solutions.”


King also said that the company has long supported federal legislation as a comprehensive means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adding, “However, we support EPA moving forward with this effort in the absence of federal legislation.”

National Grid is a subsidiary of National Grid plc.

Melissa McHenry, director of external communications with American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP), toldTransmissionHub that the company is still reviewing the proposal and all of the technical documents to determine the potential impact of the proposed greenhouse gas regulations.

“The proposed regulations are very complex, and it’s too early for us to speculate about the potential impact on our generation or transmission business,” she said. “It is important to remember that Monday’s announcement is just the proposed guidelines. The guidelines still have to be finalized by EPA and then each state will develop an implementation plan for meeting the final guidelines. The state plans will determine the amount of renewable energy development and associated transmission investment that might support it. That process will take several years.”

McHenry noted that AEP will participate in the process and work to protect the interests of its customers, including coordinating with key stakeholders in each of the states the company works in to evaluate EPA’s proposal and develop implementation plans that sensibly address each state’s economic and energy needs.

She also said that AEP’s Electric Transmission Texas joint venture has been building transmission in Texas to support renewable energy development for several years, but it is too early to say how the competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) process will fit into the Texas compliance plan.

Paul Copleman, a spokesperson with Iberdrola Renewables, told TransmissionHub that renewable energy sources, particularly wind power, “are poised to deliver economic, reliable, emission-free power to help meet this immense challenge. The EPA proposal is a crucial first step on the way to reducing carbon pollution and the effects of climate change.”

Iberdrola Renewables is the U.S. division of parent company Iberdrola S.A.

ISOs Highlight Efforts So Far

ISO New England (ISO-NE) spokesperson Marcia Blomberg told TransmissionHub, that ISO-NE is still reviewing the draft rule issued on June 2. She added that the New England states have been at the forefront of efforts to develop cap-and-trade systems, reduce carbon emissions and expand the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“[T]he draft rule includes some flexibility in terms of time — if multi-state plans are submitted, until June 2018 — and the variety of possible compliance measures,” she said.

Of planned/proposed transmission projects within ISO-NE that may facilitate the transport of renewable energy, she said, “The projects we are developing with transmission owners are reliability projects, aimed at addressing areas on the regional power grid that need upgrades,” adding that there are several elective projects proposed by private transmission developers.

Kenneth Klapp, a spokesperson with the New York ISO (NYISO) told TransmissionHub: “We will continue to monitor the proposed rulemaking and factor into our ongoing Reliability Needs Assessment and Comprehensive Reliability Planning processes. The NYISO can call upon regulated backstop solutions of generation, demand response or transmission if needed.”

He also noted that since 21 percent of the power generated in New York currently comes from renewable sources, just about all transmission will be supporting renewable energy. Additionally, there are a number of transmission proposals under consideration in the state regulators’ AC transmission proceeding that would substantially reduce transmission constraints between upstate New York and southeastern New York that, if approved and completed, would benefit renewable resources in the northern and western parts of the state, Klapp said.

NYISO’s Interconnection Queue indicates current proposed transmission projects that are part of the interconnection impact study process, he said. Those projects include Transmission Developers’ Champlain Hudson Power Express, New York State Electric & Gas’ (NYSEG) Oakdale–Fraser 345-kV line and Consolidated Edison Company of New York’s (Con Edison) Feeder 76 Ramapo–Rock Tavern project.

NYSEG is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, whose parent company is Iberdrola S.A. Con Edison is a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED).

PJM Interconnection spokesperson Paula Dupont-Kidd told TransmissionHub that it is still too early to know how the new EPA policy will affect PJM directly, adding, “We know that we will be working with the states within PJM’s region as they develop their implementation plans.”

Steven Greenlee, a spokesperson with the California ISO (Cal-ISO), told TransmissionHub, “The California ISO is leading the nation in integrating renewables, which began in 2002 with our Participating Intermittent Resource Program, being first in the nation in establishing a control room renewables dispatch desk and by pioneering study and planning process that includes giving weight to projects that support public energy policies alongside reliability and economic proposals.”

Cal-ISO now has just over 15,000 MW of renewable resources interconnected, which are consistently producing around 20 percent to 25 percent of the energy consumed on a daily basis — and growing.

Greenlee added, “So, the ISO does not expect the EPA’s new plan to have much, if any, impact on our transmission planning process as we are already proactive in planning for and accommodating clean energy resources, and have been for a number of years. California never had much coal-fired generation in its portfolio mix and has had a prohibition against using it since 2007.” 

He also noted that Cal-ISO understands that California’s air and energy agencies will conduct a more detailed review of how the new federal standards align with California’s energy policies and the ISO will assist them as needed.

Of planned/proposed transmission projects within Cal-ISO that may facilitate the transport of renewable energy, he said that the ISO has been approving transmission upgrades for several years that support California’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires that 33% of retail power sales be met with renewable resources. The ISO 2013-2014 Transmission Plan notes that enough major transmission has been approved to meet the RPS under current conditions and assumptions. 

“Our need is to have enough flexible resources that can start and stop, and ramp up and down very quickly to help manage the fluctuations in wind and solar output,” Greenlee said. “These resources include utility-scale energy storage, energy efficiency and demand response products.”

Major transmission lines that have been approved to support California’s energy policies include San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) Sunrise Powerlink project and Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Eldorado-Ivanpah and Tehachapi projects, according to Cal-ISO.

SCE is an Edison International (NYSE:EIX) company.

In a June 2 statement, Jessie Knight Jr., chairman of SDG&E and Southern California Gas and executive vice president of external affairs for Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE), which is the parent company of SDG&E and Southern California Gas, said that Sempra Energy supports the sensible regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions and actions that help develop a modernized energy grid that is clean and reliable. 

“Although we are still reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed emissions regulations for existing power plants, we appreciate the inclusion of flexible compliance mechanisms that could recognize early actions by states like California that have already invested in pioneering greenhouse gas emissions-reduction programs,” Knight said. “We look forward to continued engagement with the Environmental Protection Agency and other stakeholders as the final rules are developed.”

He noted that Sempra Energy’s low-carbon emissions strategy is the foundation of the company’s approach to providing clean energy to more than 24 million U.S. consumers every day, and its ongoing investments in natural gas, renewable energy, energy efficiency and innovative technologies have allowed the company to achieve a carbon-dioxide emissions rate that is 40 percent below the U.S. national average.

Knight added that Sempra Energy’s natural gas-fired power plants have been built with the best available emissions-control technology and the company continues expanding its fleet of wind and solar power projects domestically and internationally.

This article was originally published on Transmission Hub and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Transmission lines via Shutterstock

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Corina Rivera-Linares, senior analyst for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past eight years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at corinar@pennwell.com.

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