Heat Wave-Strained Grid Needs Regional Power Sharing, Feds Say

Source: By Daniel Moore, Bloomberg Law • Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2022

Utility poles in Dallas, Texas, US, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Photographer: Shelby Tauber/Bloomberg

The heat wave straining the power grid in much of the country has led US energy officials and lawmakers to press for more transfers of electricity among regions that largely operate their own sections of the grid.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plans to meet with state utility commissioners next week in California to discuss inter-regional transmission planning—a key hurdle to keeping power reliable and affordable, energy experts say.

During Winter Storm Uri, a cold blast in February 2021 that caused widespread outages in Texas and neighboring states, some power transferred from regions to the north and east prevented even worse blackouts. More transfers could have stemmed the crisis altogether, FERC and state officials have said during previous meetings.

The July 20 meeting is widely expected to inform a proposed rule by the commission on the issue in the coming months.

The commission is pursuing a series of proposed rules this year to update the country’s transmission system.

In April, it proposed a rule on how regional transmission is planned and paid for. Last month, it proposed rules to lower barriers to renewable energy waiting to connect to the grid and to require reliability standards to protect the grid against outages during extreme weather events.

House Bill Introduced

The commission is also getting pressure from lawmakers on the issue.

This month, Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) introduced the Reinforcing the Grid Against Extreme Weather Act (H.R. 8303). The bill would require the commission to establish minimum transfer capability requirements between regions.

The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Levin and Rep. Jerry McNerney, both Democrats of California. The three lawmakers also teamed up last week to introduce the Grid Resilience Act (H.R. 8311).

No similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate. The bill faces steep odds in the remaining months ahead of midterm elections. But the House Democrats hope it can help shed light on the importance of bolstering the grid as small bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers are negotiating a broader climate package.

“With wildfires, flooding, and heat waves ravaging the country, we have an obligation to increase the reliability of our electric grid and protect Americans against these devastating events fueled by the climate crisis,” Casten said Thursday in a statement.

Casten envisions the commission helping to “unlock the vast supply of domestic US clean energy resources to fuel our transportation as well as power needs, free up energy for allies around the world to use and help rid them from dependence on Russia and other petro-states,” he said.

Advocates of renewable energy praised the efforts to break down regional silos.

“The U.S. currently lacks sufficient transfer capacity between regions to ensure a cost-effective grid that keeps the lights on,” Gregory Wetstone, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said in a statement. “As our nation continues to experience increasingly frequent extreme weather events, expanding the transmission connections between regions is critical.”