Transmission Planning and Development

Transmission is to renewable energy resources what the transcontinental railroad was to opening up the West. We need to connect California’s renewable resource-rich regions—wind from Tehachapi, geothermal and wind from the Imperial Valley, concentrated solar power from the Mojave Desert, and to a lesser extent, bio-energy from the Central Valley—to the large coastal urban load centers of the state where it is needed. Making this vital connection will require a series of massive, multi-billion dollar investments in new transmission infrastructure. In conjunction with the California Energy Commission, we have been promoting a unique stakeholder collaboration project to expedite planning and development of vital transmission projects.

Recent Developments:

The California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC’s) sudden shift in new resource procurement policy has exposed several long-standing transmission-related issues, including:

    • The 10-year focus of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) Transmission Planning Process (TPP) is too short, considering the size of procurement required to achieve state decarbonization goals
    • The lack of oversight on construction of approved projects
    • The lack of coordination with plans of other California Balancing Authorities
    • The lack of coordination between distribution-level interconnections (WDAT) versus high-voltage bulk interconnections
    • The need to rethink the “deliverability” standard, considering the shift in resource mix and the reduction in potential imports

It is evident that these issues need immediate attention and involve a shift in focus from the CPUC 10-year Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) procurement to the longer-term SB 100 process at the California Energy Commission (CEC). In order to keep this year’s CAISO TPP on schedule, the CAISO has initiated a new “20-year plan” whose outcome is not tied to an immediate project approval process and takes its input from the CEC’s statewide SB 100 process. Details of how these plans will be coordinated are being worked out over the next two months by the CEC, CPUC, and CAISO.

CEERT’s V. John White and Jim Caldwell have had several discussions with CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas, who is leading a newly formed interagency team that includes CPUC Commissioners Maribel Batjer and Cliff Rechtschaffen and CAISO CEO Elliot Mainzer. The focus will be to develop a new, more comprehensive transmission planning process for the renewable generation infrastructure that we will need to reach our 100% Clean Energy target. We anticipate the initiative, which will be supported by a significant allocation of new funding to the CEC based on one-time federal stimulus money and the 2021 California General Fund surplus, will help overcome the current barriers to considering long-term transmission system needs, rooted in the CPUC staff’s opposition to building new transmission, and will also include outreach and engagement with the publicly owned utilities such as LADWP and SMUD, as well as regional transmission planning with adjacent balancing authorities in other states.

The new initiative kicked off with a meeting on May 20 between CEC Commissioners Douglas and Gunda and CPUC Commissioners Batjer and Rechtschaffen, to which V. John White was invited, along with Danielle Mills of Americans for Clean Power, Shannon Eddy of Large Scale Solar Association, Nancy Rader of California Wind Energy Association, and Jan Smutny-Jones of Independent Energy Producers. Two key issues discussed were the inability of so-called “energy only” renew¬¬able projects to be financed or brought online without identifying the availability of transmission, and the backlog in transmission upgrades and expansions identified by ACP.

Based on our conversations with Commissioner Douglas, we are cautiously optimistic that this new forum will help jump-start near- and medium-term transmission planning and implementation, and a more holistic focus on the renewable and transmission infrastructure investment needed to meet both 2030 and 2045 targets. It could also well result in the CEC becoming the lead agency on energy infrastructure planning.