California and 12 other US states, plus parts of Canada and Mexico, are considering whether to expand the California wholesale grid and balancing area to include the entire region, in order to increase the flow of reliable, affordable, and renewable power across the West. This shift to a regional independent system operator, or ISO, would also expand resource flexibility, improve transmission planning and grid reliability, and enable a far larger share of renewable energy across the system. But it’s not without risk: Would a unified Western market kill the market for power projects sold under virtual PPAs outside its borders? Would it give project developers—or even coal plants—operating within the Western grid but outside California a competitive edge over California’s own renewable project developers? Would it become a loophole through which coal power starts being imported into California, after many years of effort trying to get rid of coal in the Golden State? Would California or any of the other Western states lose control over their own power production and consumption? And what about the five states that could join the Southwest Power Pool instead—what will they do?

These are complex questions with no easy answers, but our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject and ably walks us through all the pros and cons…and points the way to a potentially very different future for power markets in the American West.

Geek rating: 8

Guest: Laura Wisland is the Senior Manager for Western States Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where she focuses on developing state policies that will effectively increase the amount of renewable energy used in western states. She provides technical and policy analysis to legislative and regulatory agencies to successfully guide the integration of high levels of renewable energy onto electricity systems.

On the Web:  Laura Wisland’s blog at Union of Concerned Scientists

Recording date: March 29, 2018

Air date: May 16, 2018

 

Teaser photo credit: A grid operation control room. Photo: CAISO