There is a lot of support for fully integrating the western grid and for a variety of reasons: fast action on climate change, reducing the cost of the clean energy transition, better system reliability, and better use of the existing grid we have invested billions in to name but a few.
The case for change is very strong. The current system is fragmented into 38 separate balancing authorities, rather than one regional transmission operator (RTO), to serve 14 western states, and parts of Canada and Mexico. This encourages wasteful use of infrastructure, limits renewable energy integration and drives up costs and pollution we could otherwise avoid.
That’s why Governor Brown, lawmakers like Chris Holden, environmental groups, renewable energy companies, community choice aggregators and others are working hard to expand the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) into a fully integrated RTO.
The prime vehicle for this effort is Assembly Bill 813, which will be up before the State Senate Appropriations Committee next week (schedules subject to change) with floor votes in the legislature expected before the session ends August 31.
The bill is not without controversy but the claims against it don’t hold water.
Frustrated by the misinformation, a number of prominent experts from across the spectrum are weighing in to set the record straight and support the bill in the face of fears of some opponents.
Here’s a sampling of some of the things these experts are saying in support of AB 813 and western grid integration:
“In addition to significantly decarbonizing the western region, a well-crafted regionalization plan will result in cost savings for California ratepayers, which is particularly important for low-income communities and communities most in need,” Eddie H. Ahn, executive director, Brightline Defense Project, letter to Assemblyman Chris Holden (June 15, 2018)
“We’re essentially throwing away clean energy – and that needs to stop. Most troubling are exaggerated claims that the effort to fix our fragmented electric grid will give the Trump administration new ways to subvert California’s clean energy policies and goals. But the truth is the proposed legislation wouldn’t give federal regulators any new authority, and in fact adds important new protections against federal overreaches.” -- Tim McRae, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, San Jose Mercury News (July 25, 2018)
“We need long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gas… We need to determine the best options to increase the use of clean energy in the west. A regional grid would make energy more reliable and affordable for Californians.” – F. Noel Perry, Next10 Founder, Orange County Register (July 18, 2018)
“To maximize the benefits of sharing our resources, it is clear that a new regional entity must be created to take advantage of the abundant clean energy resources in our region. And, as with any sharing agreement, all of us will have to agree on the path forward. This is a change, but we are not afraid of change on the West Coast. This change comes with enormous opportunity: improved coordination of our energy resources that can help the West Coast states meet our long-term carbon reduction goals and save consumers money. – Jay Inslee, Washington Governor, San Francisco Chronicle (July 30, 2018)
“The promise of energy cost savings and reliability is why the California Chamber of Commerce and many other business groups join Gov. Jerry Brown in supporting a regional energy market. We need a system that will help California meet its climate change goals and mitigate future cost increases.” – Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Tribune (July 18,2018)
“CalCCA believes that a well-crafted plan will support the ability of CalCCA members to procure and build local renewable resources by creating a stronger renewable energy market, reduce curtailment of renewable resources, and make bills more affordable for California ratepayers. Regionalization is also likely to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by exposing coal-fired power plants to competition from cheaper clean sources.” – Beth Vaughan, executive director, CalCCA (California Community Choice Association, letter to Assemblyman Chris Holden (May 11, 2018)
It is important to emphasize that FERC does not currently have jurisdiction over California’s energy and environmental policies and that expanding CAISO would not give FERC such jurisdiction. In other words, California would and will be able to do anything it can currently do with respect to environmental and energy matters if CAISO were to evolve into a western regional ISO.” – Professor Ann Carlson, Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law, UCLA, letter to Assemblyman Chris Holden (July 26, 2018)
“When I wrote the book, “The California Electricity Crisis” in 2001/2002, I saw opportunities for California and the entire U.S. West to improve the overall resilience of the electric system by fully integrating the western power grid. Those opportunities have become more compelling now with the growth of intermittent renewables, not simply in California, but throughout the West. By integrating our western power grid – including the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and California, as well as western Canada and Mexico – we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs for consumers, while increasing reliability.” – Professor James Sweeney, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center Director, Stanford, letter to Assemblyman Chris Holden, (July 2018)
“Right now, there are 38 different regions across the West and every one of them has to have their own backup plants for reserve power…If we were able to consolidate all of those into a few bigger ones we could share those resources and there wouldn’t have to be as many backup power plants. That would be a big money saver.” – Bentham Paulos, Next10 report author, Orange County Register (July 18, 2018)
"Additional regional efforts will help reduce the price of integrating variable generation, such as wind and solar power and improve reliability... For instance, the Northwest's vast hydropower resources can help alleviate concerns with the intermittency associated with wind and solar. In addition, as has been the case in other regions, such as MISO and PJM, a broad geographic scope helps minimize the variability associated with intermittent generation." – Rich Glick, Democratic FERC Commissioner, Politico (July 11, 2018)
“Based on my analysis, the claims that the move to a fully independent CAISO board as a prerequisite to its evolution into a western regional transmission organization will expand federal power over California are unfounded. There are several reasons for this, including a) transmission siting to facilitate clean energy generation is driven by project financing and siting options, for which the California market is a dominant driver; and b) the economics of solar and wind projects at costs below that of fossil-fuel alternatives in much of the WECC will continue to drive CAISO and then regional decisions in ways consistent with the California AB32 and SB32 mandates.” – Professor Dan Kammen, Chair, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley, letter to Assemblyman Chris Holden (July 17, 2018)
“California has done very well to integrate 25% renewables, but going to 50% and higher will be much, much harder. The SB 350 study found that California can achieve 60% renewables under a regional grid for the same cost as achieving 50% renewables under a California-only grid. This means lower emissions and more jobs for California workers.” – Arne Olson, E3, testimony before the Senate Energy and Utilities Committee (June 19, 2018)
Opponents of the bill are now advocating to postpone regionalizing the grid to some unspecified future time. But there is no benefit from postponement, and we get no new protection from delay. It will take a few years before the reorganized system operator can begin operating, even if we pass AB 813. The bill gives us more protection from federal intervention than current law provides, so that argument against passage is a hollow one. As climate impacts continue to worsen we need to take every measure possible to meet the climate challenge as expeditiously as we can.
For more information, visit: www.securecaenergyfuture.org