Portland, Ore., energy company examines joining Calif. grid system 

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2015

Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp is looking at joining the wholesale electricity market headed by the California grid operator.

PacifiCorp, which serves about 1.8 million customers in Oregon, Washington, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and a small portion of California, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the California Independent Operator to “explore full participation in the ISO as a Participating Transmission Owner.”

The agreement “paves the way for performing a joint study on the feasibility and benefits of PacifiCorp joining the only competitive wholesale market in the West,” the pact said. The ISO manages about 80 percent of the energy flow in California.

PacifiCorp last November began participating in the six-state Energy Imbalance Market, a system that gives Western buyers the option to purchase electricity in five-minute increments. It’s intended to allow utilities to draw on resources regionwide that may be cheaper than their neighboring plants on reserve, ready to ramp up production to compensate for declining wind and solar (EnergyWire, March 18).

While participating in that, PacifiCorp “has realized millions in cost benefits, which helped inform its decision to explore expanding that partnership to increase cost savings for customers, enhancing grid reliability and to support its clean energy goals,” the MOU said.

PacifiCorp joining the ISO “would allow for a full coordination of the two largest electrical transmission grids in the region and allow customers served by both entities access to a broader array of power generation at lower costs,” the MOU said.

The ISO is growing. Valley Electric Association of Pahrump, Nev. — the first out-of-state energy company to join the ISO — and the city of Colton, Calif., became members in January 2013. If PacifiCorp moves to full participation, it would be the ISO’s 17th transmission-owning member.

California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller praised the move as a boon for renewable power.

“The addition of PacifiCorp to the ISO would allow larger amounts of wind and solar power to be more seamlessly integrated into the ISO’s transmission network, which will help achieve our clean energy vision, lower costs and maintain grid reliability,” Weisenmiller said. “This development could prove to be the key to managing the variability of renewable energy production and over generation by giving grid operators more options to balance power supply and demand throughout the day.”