Questions about California’s clout stall plan for Western power grid

Source: By EMMA PENROD, The Salt Lake Tribune • Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017

Negotiations to create an 11-state regional electric grid that would include Utah have stagnated, with key players deadlocked over individual states’ authority.

Utah’s largest utility company, Rocky Mountain Power, has put the proposal on hold while it waits to see how much authority California will retain over the grid’s operations, said Gary Hoogeveen, senior vice president.

The current proposal, as envisioned by California Gov. Jerry Brown, would have the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, expand to oversee the regional grid. The not-for-profit organization presently manages electrical transmission in the Golden State, under a mandate from its legislators.

And while it’s unclear exactly how the proposal would affect electricity prices in Utah, Rocky Mountain Power says its customers would see benefits.

Beyond saving money, the plan also has long-term potential — at least according to some — for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

It could also let sunny California send surplus solar power to states farther east, such as Utah, where the sun is setting and electricity demand increasing at roughly the same time that solar generation is at its peak on the coast.

But negotiations apparently have stalled over concerns from several states on how to balance CAISO’s regional authority over the grid with their own.

California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León remains opposed to any measure that would cede the state’s control over its energy policies to any other state, according to spokesman Anthony Reyes.

As long as California fails to pass legislation giving other states a say in the grid’s management, Hoogeveen said, the deal is a “nonstarter.”

“The question is, who controls [the Western grid], and what are the rules to govern that entity,” he said. “And those are the questions that have kind of stuck so far.”

PacifiCorp operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho and as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and California.

All of the states in which PacifiCorp operates have said they will not agree to let California set regionwide energy policy, Hoogeveen said.

“Things have to be resolved first regarding governance,” he said, “and to the extent that that isn’t happening, we’re not interested in expending our states’ time on the issue.”

Brown, California’s governor, indicated in a letter late last summer that he thought it best to postpone voting on the matter until January to allow more time to address “some important unresolved questions.”

But, according to CAISO spokeswoman Anne Gonzales, no legislation has yet emerged for regionalizing CAISO’s authority.

Studies conducted last year by CAISO assumed Rocky Mountain Power would be the first utility to sign up for the regional grid.

But Gonzales opened the possibility that California lawmakers might adopt a CAISO-backed grid-governance plan without Rocky Mountain Power initially on board, then allow it and other Western utility companies to consider joining.