Nev. regulator picked to lead in development of ‘real time’ Western market

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Nevada utilities regulator has been nominated to lead an advisory committee critical to the development of a voluntary “real time” energy market expected to launch this fall to allow Western states to share electricity resources.

Rebecca Wagner was unanimously picked by members of an advisory group at the California Independent System Operator Corp. to lead an efforts to develop a governance structure for an energy imbalance market, or EIM, which will pool energy resources in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Wagner, who’s a member of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, would lead the advisory group, dubbed the Energy Imbalance Market Transitional Committee, made up of nine representatives nominated by regional industry stakeholders, as well as PacifiCorp and NV Energy — two companies that will take part in the market. NV Energy, notably, is the biggest authority in the state with its subsidiaries providing power to 85 percent of Nevada.

The committee met for the first time this month and unanimously chose Wagner to lead. The group will present her name to Cal ISO’s Board of Governors, which will decide to confirm Wagner at a coming meeting on July 15 and July 16.

Steve Berberich, the ISO’s president and CEO, said the panel will craft a governance structure that is “fair, transparent and inclusive of a wide range of stakeholders” to make a “truly Western market” that encourages broad participation.

During the next 18 months, the advisory committee will make recommendations to the ISO Board of Governors about the market’s long-term governance structure.

Notably, the board does not include any public power utilities or cooperative utilities, which play a significant role in the generation and delivery of electricity in the West. The trade groups for both sectors — the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association — are skeptical of the benefits of an EIM. They fear it will lead to a full-blown regional transmission organization and higher prices.

Nor is the Bonneville Power Administration represented, even though the federal power marketing administration provides about 30 percent of the power in the Northwest from the more than 30 federal dams it manages in the Columbia River Basin.

But to be sure, certain committee members were chosen to serve as “liaisons” for all market sectors and ensure concerns are heard. Representing publicly owned utilities will be Tony Braun, president of Braun Blaising McLaughlin & Smith PC, while Kavulla, a member of the Montana Public Service Commission, will serve as a liaison for the federal agency sector, including BPA.

Joe Nipper, senior vice president for APPA, said his members fear the EIM could “lead inextricably to a full-blown RTO down the road.”

“Our California members are not opposing it; it’s moving forward. So their approach is to work with and try to make it workable for them,” Nipper said, noting that they are already part of the California Independent System Operator’s market. “But folks in other states are very skeptical about the benefits of this.”

Federal regulators last month signed off on the California ISO’s plan — mainly through tariff revisions — to create the market, which is slated to be launched in October (Greenwire, June 19). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously voted to conditionally accept the ISO’s proposal to craft the market.

FERC acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur said the proposal marks an “exciting” milestone that allows a large region to receive benefits of belonging to a market, to enhance reliability and to handle growing renewable resources, while FERC Commissioner John Norris said the energy landscape is changing quickly in the West with a surge of wind and solar, adding that it reflects a belief the system can be operated more efficiently.

The decision marked a big win for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who in recent months have pushed FERC to approve the plan.

Wagner in a statement to California grid operators pointed to various studies indicating the market would have far-reaching benefits for Nevada. She also touted her record of juggling complex cases during her stint on the Nevada utilities commission, where she’s served since 2006.

“I firmly believe that there is a great potential for all consumers to benefit from optimizing resources beyond existing balancing authorities,” Wagner wrote. “In broader terms, I believe that working together as a region is beneficial to all involved and recognize that there is a lot to learn from our neighboring states — especially states with progressive energy policies like California.”

Wagner has also served as an energy adviser to former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) and served as the director of the Nevada State Office of Energy and worked for a geothermal company that owned, operated and developed geothermal projects. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) reappointed Wagner to a second term in 2011. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Other committee members:

  • Stephen Beuning, Xcel Energy Inc.
  • Tony Braun, Braun Blaising McLaughlin & Smith PC.
  • Dede Hapner, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
  • Travis Kavulla, Montana Public Service Commission.
  • Kevin Lynch, Iberdrola Renewables.
  • Mark Smith, Calpine Corp.
  • Robert Weisenmiller, California Energy Commission.
  • Carl Zichella, Natural Resources Defense Council.
  • Natalie Hocken, PacifiCorp.
  • Walter Spansel, NV Energy Inc.