FERC revises rules to help bring renewables onto the grid

Source: Gabriel Nelson, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 22, 2012

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted today to revise rules for variable energy resources like wind and solar power, saying the changes will let the overseers of the power grid respond more quickly to weather patterns.

It marks a departure from the current practice of setting transmission schedules in one-hour blocks, which can make it more difficult to prepare for when the sun hides behind clouds or the wind stops blowing. Transmission companies will now be able to set their schedules in 15-minute blocks.

The final rule, which will take effect one year after its publication in the Federal Register, was approved this morning by a 3-1 vote. FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said the step will make it cheaper to deploy renewables, which will need to be brought onto the grid in any case to meet the portfolio standards in many states.

“Variable energy resources make up an increasing share of new capacity coming online,” he said. “This final rule eliminates undue burdens on these resources and will help transmission providers and their customers effectively manage the costs of integration.”

The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who said she supported most of the changes but had “narrow” concerns that it would be hard for regional grid authorities to show that they meet the requirements of the new rules.

In a change from the 2010 proposal, today’s final rule will spare regions of the country from the 15-minute scheduling requirement if they can demonstrate that a new and different policy will serve the same purpose. LaFleur said the commission hasn’t explained why the existing efforts aren’t good enough.

“It’s very important that we not give any possible appearance in any of our rules that we’re leveraging our authority to achieve a predetermined result, but rather that we be flexible to other ways to meet the objectives that we set forth,” LaFleur said.

The wind industry welcomed the rule but said it doesn’t go far enough. Beyond the changes to scheduling, FERC could be telling grid authorities to dispatch electricity sources in 15-minute intervals, the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.

“There is still much work to be done before we have a power system that is truly efficient and does not discriminate against renewable energy resources,” said Rob Gramlich, the group’s senior vice president for public policy, in a statement.

‘Bulk electric system’

The commission also proposed today to accept a new definition of the “bulk electric system” — a change that will decide which transmission lines and facilities must follow mandatory reliability standards.

In line with the advice of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., today’s proposal sets a strict threshold of 100 kilovolts, rather than giving regional grid overseers authority to choose what should count as part of the bulk electric system. It includes a list of exemptions to that threshold.

The proposal passed on a unanimous vote, with commissioners saying it would clear up inconsistencies on the power grid in different parts of the country.

Commissioner Philip Moeller said last September’s blackout in Southern California should be a wakeup call. Facilities handling less than 100 kV played a role in the outage after the failure of a high-voltage transmission line connecting Arizona and San Diego, FERC and NERC said last month (E&ENews PM, May 1).

“There were a variety of causes of that event, but sub-100 kV facilities played a significant role in blacking out 7 million people,” Moeller said. “It’s critical to recognize that the bulk electric system … is interconnected in a way that even sub-100 kV facilities can impact millions of people, and we can’t have a repeat of that event.”