PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 8, 2017
By Debra Kahn
In the waning days of California’s legislative session, speculation is rampant that a bill will emerge to unite the Western electricity grid.
The concept of grid regionalization, or creating a regional transmission organization to manage electricity dispatches, has been under discussion for the past two years. According to backers, its best chance could come before the end of the state’s legislative session on Sept. 15.
“I am continuing to cling, some say unrealistically, to the hope that we can do this before the end of the session,” said Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program.
Officials in six Western states – California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming – have been exploring the possibility of creating a regional transmission organization (RTO) similar to the multistate organizations that already blanket most of the rest of the country. The proposal has the potential to transform the Western grid, reducing its reliance on coal, boosting the development of wind power across the Rockies, and producing billions of dollars in savings for ratepayers, advocates say.
“If things go as I hope they will, what the Legislature will do is authorize a transition to a fully independent board under the auspices of the current board,” Cavanagh said. “It’s that simple. What you’ve got is what amounts to an open invitation to the rest of the West to come in and participate.”
The language would set the stage for CAISO to pivot to a board made up of representatives from across the West.
“If you see a bill, what the bill will do is lay the groundwork for governance change as well as laying a framework for the terms under which California would join a wider ISO,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, a group representing independent generators in California that supports regionalization. “I think it would set some sort of legislative guidance, give a direction of where things should go. There are an enormous amount of operational and other considerations that would need to go into it that really aren’t conducive to legislation.”