California approves $6.1B transmission plan

Source: By Jason Plautz, E&E News • Posted: Monday, May 27, 2024

The grid operator also greenlighted a plan to bring power from a New Mexico wind project into the Golden State.

Electrical grid transmission towers are seen in Pasadena, Calif.

Electrical grid transmission towers are seen in Pasadena, California. John Antczak/AP

California’s grid manager approved on Thursday a $6.1 billion plan to boost transmission, as well as a project to connect a massive transmission line that will carry wind power into the state.

The board of governors for the California Independent System Operator accepted Pattern Energy’s application to tie the SunZia line into the California grid, a crucial step for the long-running renewable energy project. The 550-mile transmission line will be able to carry 3,000 megawatts of power from New Mexico to Arizona, where a substation will route the power to California.

The approval marks a significant milestone for the SunZia line, which was first proposed in 2006 and became a poster child for the delays facing major transmission projects. The line, which started construction last year after getting federal approval, is being developed alongside a 3,500 MW wind facility in New Mexico.

It’s the second project to gain approval under a program designed to facilitate interstate transmission; the first was the TransWest Express project that will carry up to 3,000 MW of Wyoming wind power to California and other Western states. The program allows the transmission developer to give the ISO operational control and then connect out-of-state generation to the California system.

Cameron Yourkowski, Pattern Energy’s director of market and regulatory affairs, said in a statement that the program “is truly an innovative transmission development policy that I hope gains traction around the country.”

Separately, the board approved a 2023-2024 transmission plan that recommends 26 new projects to facilitate the addition of 85,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity by 2035. The blueprint is the first step in a long process, with large transmission projects likely taking years to gain environmental clearances and finish construction.

It includes a number of projects designed to integrate wind power from California’s north coast. Among those are two transmission lines from a substation near the state’s northern border: a 260-mile line connecting to a substation southwest of Sacramento and a 140-mile line heading east to the interior of the state.

Other transmission projects identified in the plan would connect the state to wind projects in New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming and Arizona.

“We have been working diligently to find new and creative ways to advance the transmission infrastructure we know will be needed to deliver to consumers all the additional energy coming online over the next two decades,” said ISO president Elliot Mainzer in a statement. “We are enhancing regional interconnectivity and reliability in the most cost-effective way possible for California and our partners in the region.”

California law requires that 100 percent of its electricity come from clean energy by 2045.

The plan initiates a competitive solicitation process for two of the north coast projects and authorizes cost recovery for all of the identified projects, subject to regulatory approval.

According to California ISO documents, the transmission lines identified in the report would facilitate more than 38,000 MW of solar generation across the state, 3,000 MW of in-state wind generation and more than 2,000 MW of geothermal power. The plan would also support the import of more than 5,600 MW of wind power from other Western states and 4,700 MW of offshore wind.

Molly Croll, Pacific offshore wind director for the American Clean Power Association, praised the grid operator for “thoughtfully integrating offshore wind energy” into the transmission plan, which she said was a “significant step towards building California’s first offshore wind projects.”

“Offshore wind is a reliable and essential source of clean power for reducing the impacts of climate change and attaining 100% clean energy in California. We look forward to continuing work with CAISO and the state to advance transmission planning for offshore wind,” Croll said in a statement.