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Transmission efforts gain stimulus nod

Dec 28 , 2009 - Kate Rowland - Energy Central

Kate Rowland

Last Friday, with very little hoopla and fanfare, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $60 million in stimulus funding to support transmission planning for the country’s three interconnection transmission networks.

The funding was split in a democratic fashion, with two different proposals in each of the three interconnections receiving funding. The awards, too, were split into two topic areas, with funding for both transmission planners and state agencies.

Awards under the first topic area are designed to fund transmission planners’ work with stakeholder organizations within an interconnection to project options for alternative electricity supplies and the associated transmission requirements. The second group of awards, on the other hand, was designed for state agencies (or groups of agencies) to develop coordinated interconnection priorities and planning processes.

The Eastern Interconnection received the most funding, with $16 million going to the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative (EIPC) and $14 million going to the Eastern Interconnection States’ Planning Council (EISPC). Second

on the winners’ list was the Western Interconnection, with $14.5 million awarded to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council and $12 million to the Western Governors’ Association. Finally, the Texas Interconnection (a much smaller geographical area) received $3.5 million allocated to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) across the two topic areas, with $1 million specifically marked for work with Texas government agencies.

Just to be clear, I consider this $60 million to be a critical piece of the emerging intelligent utility puzzle. Transmission is the glue that will bind new renewables generation, grid-scale storage, and more to the new and existing technologies that will help us better manage the new mix.

Back in mid-October, I sat in on an informational webcast held by the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative to discuss the group’s DOE proposal. This collaborative is a combination of regional planning authorities who participated in a joint agreement to form an analysis team to perform technical studies; federal, state and provincial representatives; self-formed stakeholder group, and individual stakeholder groups. The proposal, in a nutshell? To come together to work on common questions and to develop common answers, with the goal of creating a transmission analysis that addresses everyone’s issues as a whole.

The objectives of the group are to provide a roll-up and analysis of approved regional plans; develop possible interregional expansion of scenarios to be studied, and, finally, develop interregional transmission expansion plans. The EIPC has committed itself to an open and transparent process that includes the roll-up of regional plans as a starting point for discussions and study. It is expected that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will also be involved in this process.

And that is where, for me, the Cracker Jacks prize came in last Friday’s announcement. (You remember -- before the prizes got cheap and cheesy, when you’d save it and open it only after you’d finished the box of caramel popcorn and peanuts, just to drag out the pleasure a little bit longer?) Rolled into the transmission planning awards announcement was yet another made by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, that he had joined with FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the agencies to coordinate efforts related to interconnection-level electric transmission planning.

Under the MOU, the DOE will lead electricity-related research and development activities, including research and demonstrations for hardware and software technologies that help operate the country’s transmission networks, while FERC “will continue to oversee electricity reliability standards nationally and will enforce regulations to ensure that all transmission planning happens in an open, transparent and non-discriminatory manner.”

This, they say, will allow them to take the regional planning groundwork to the next step -- that of developing interconnection-wide plans. (Not to mention the “open and transparent” part, which will hopefully allow the rest of us to follow not only the regional processes, but the interconnection-wide ones, as they grow.)

None of this, by the way, will happen overnight, or even in what has been, until now, a fairly standard stimulus timeline. Awardees are expected to produce long-term resource and transmission planning studies in 2011, with updated documents in 2013. The idea is that the knowledge and perspective gained from the work will inform policy and regulatory decisions in the years to come, providing critical information to electricity industry planners, states, and others.

I look forward to discussing this and other issues with all the players in the emerging intelligent utility. If you'd like to let me know what you think of this article, I encourage you to use the Comment link below. I welcome your insights, whether or not you agree with me. It's all informed dialogue, and an important part of the discussion. If you have a story idea for me, please contact me by e-mail at, or by telephone at 720-331-3555.


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