July | August 2017

by Brad Johnson and Kansas state Rep. Tom Sloan
State public servants are often reminded that our citizens want reliable, affordable and cleaner electricity. As policymakers, we have responded with ambitious goals, plans, schedules and financing policies to meet these demands. However, in our rush to hit these targets, we’ve forgotten one critical element, the nation’s electricity grid.
Failing to invest in our energy infrastructure could hamstring efforts to boost economic productivity, drive job creation, and promote cleaner energy, as well as undermine a number of other important public policy goals. Thousands of miles of the nation’s 115-500kV transmission circuits are aged, many of them 50-75 years old, and need to be replaced, upgraded and modernized with the latest technology. The addition of new generation sources, including power from renewables, compounds the need to invest in new and existing infrastructure. At the same time, the public is growing increasingly concerned about viewshed impacts associated with existing corridors and the development of new rights of way.
As we look for ways to address these challenges, it would be a huge disservice to those that we serve not to consider the potential contributions of commercially available technologies with revolutionary performance benefits. Cost-effective technology exists with the capability of adding high capacity and efficiency to circuits—depending upon the voltage, up to 75 percent and 33 percent more respectively with capital costs on par with conventional technology. Viewshed impacts can be reduced by using more advanced, cost-effective compact line design technology with tower heights about two-thirds the height of conventional towers. However, project developers are reluctant to incorporate these high-performing technologies into projects if they believe that regional transmission planners, independent system operators, and state public utility commissions and legislatures will consider only traditional technologies.
We are at a moment in time similar to the beginning of this decade when Kansas state Rep. Tom Sloan introduced The Council of State Governments’ members to the relatively new volt/VAR optimization, or VVO, technology and its local efficiency benefits to customers on distribution grid circuits. He sponsored, and CSG adopted, his resolution Supporting Electric Power Grid Modernization to Achieve Energy Efficiency and Demand Reduction Benefits in 2012. In a July 2013 Capitol Ideas article, co-authors Sloan and West Virginia Public Service Commissioner Jon McKinney wrote:
“VVO (volt var optimization) is a prime example of a technology that can cost-effectively provide benefits to customers without their needing to take any actions. When added to the grid, this technology reduces voltage variance. By doing so, it provides energy and demand reduction benefits of 2 to 5 percent. These benefits are predictable and measurable at the consumer’s electric meter.”
The CSG policy supported VVO and other energy-efficiency and demand-reduction technologies associated with electric utility grid modernization efforts as qualified resources in meeting legislative Energy Efficiency Resource Standards and/or regulatory orders to achieve energy and demand reductions.
It’s time for governors, legislators and regulatory commissioners to demand that advanced transmission technology solutions are proposed by project developers side-by-side with conventional technology solutions so that a true cost benefit and cost-effectiveness comparison can take place. These technologies can increase grid efficiency and reduce the short-term need for new generation units.
Technology innovators are working hard to bring new infrastructure into the commercial market with performance guarantees our citizens need. There are advanced technologies whose absolute capital costs are already very close to the capital costs of conventional technologies. We should focus on long-term operational cost savings and improved electricity delivery metrics, not short-term installation costs. Furthermore, we should ensure that customers do not assume financial risks if there are any concerns that such innovative technologies do not perform to anticipated standards.
Last year, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, or NARUC, and CSG adopted national policy resolutions to help bring cost-effective transmission technology solutions into states. They co-sponsored the CSG resolution1 Supporting State Policies for Advanced Transmission Lines, which identifies examples of commercially available, high-performing, cost-effective technologies that can be deployed.
When implemented at a state-level, these policies should:
Arkansas was the first state to enact a similar policy. Montana Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson’s testimony before Montana legislative committees, using the CSG policy and a fact sheet, was well received. As of this date, a resolution has been passed out of the Senate and has strong support in the House. The New York Public Service Commission has provided complementary guidance to the New York Independent System Operator organization evaluating transmission solutions in that state.
Examples of Advanced Transmission Technologies Include:
About the Author
Brad Johnson is the Montana Public Service Commission chairman and vice chair of CSG’s National Energy and Environment Committee.
Kansas State Rep. Tom Sloan is serving his 23rd year in the Kansas House of Representatives. He is chairman of the Water & Environment committee and serves on DOE, FCC and EPA advisory committees.