Members Seek Deeper Policy Discussions
By Amanda Durish Cook
CARMEL, Ind. — A year into MISO’s stakeholder redesign, member leadership says the stakeholder process is more efficient but that discussions at meetings could use more depth.
The redesign “check-in” was the Hot Topic discussion at the Advisory Committee’s Dec. 7 meeting. Executive Director of External Affairs Kari Bennett said the redesign has cut stakeholder meetings by 22% and that staff posted 81% of meeting materials a week prior to meetings in 2016, compared to 71% in 2015. She also said MISO is working to attract more speakers from outside the RTO for presentations at informational forums. (See MISO Redesign Nears Completion.)
MISO’s sectors praised the consolidation of stakeholder groups, a cleaner process for those wishing to raise issues and the reduction in meetings and repetitive presentations.
The Independent Power Producers, Coordinating Members, End Use Customers and Transmission Dependent Utilities sectors said the redesign had made meetings more effective.
Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Angela Weber said she appreciated the issues tracking process, through which stakeholders who introduce topics can trace MISO’s response. Under the new process, the Steering Committee confers with MISO staff and may assign the issue to a senior committee.
Northern Indiana Public Service Co.’s Paul Kelly said the creation of the Resource Adequacy Subcommittee helped to combine several related issues but that the standard six-month life of a task team isn’t always long enough to fully address an issue.
Dynegy’s Mark Volpe commended MISO’s new video conferencing capabilities that help connect stakeholders.
“It’s not mentioned much, but over this past year, MISO did a technology refresh. … It allows stakeholders in Little Rock and Eagan [Minnesota] to go to the nearest MISO facility and attend meetings. It helped a number of members with limited resources. … MISO needs some kudos on that investment,” Volpe said.
Feedback Process Lacking
Multiple sectors said that MISO’s feedback process has fallen short and asked for more formalization and transparency around the comments it receives. MISO staff usually ask for stakeholder feedback via email within about two weeks of a presentation on a proposal. The RTO summarizes the responses and sometimes shares them — identified by sector only — at follow-up presentations. Some stakeholders have commented on the challenge of keeping up with a heavy volume of feedback requests and MISO’s inconsistent record of publishing comments.
NIPSCO’s Kelly said stakeholders sometimes do not understand where MISO stands on issues and that some members are confused about what feedback requests are open because the requests are only documented on the final slide of presentations.
Weber said it’s difficult to locate meeting materials and issues on MISO’s website. She suggested the RTO create a feedback calendar.
Bennett said MISO may be stuck in a “‘do loop’ of chasing the calendar,” referring to a section of computer code in which an instruction is executed repeatedly. But she said MISO has committed to revamping its website in 2017. She said MISO staff could create a feedback request tracking page on its website.
“Even though we’ve created some efficiencies, there’s still a lot of work going on, and it’s hard for any one stakeholder to keep up,” Bennett said.
“It struck me that stakeholders said the website is hard to navigate and it’s hard to find information. In a world where you can Google and find information across the globe,” an easily accessible website should be a goal, Director Baljit Dail said.
The Organization of MISO States said the process has “led to incremental increases in efficiency, but the impact on effectiveness is less certain.” Alcoa Power Generating’s DeWayne Todd agreed and said that although MISO has gained efficiencies, the meetings may not have gained effectiveness, as little deep discussion takes place.
Mitch Myhre of Alliant Energy asked for MISO to facilitate more stakeholder policy discussions with the Board of Directors. For example, he said, the board and stakeholders could discuss the RTO’s multiyear effort to revise its cost allocation.
“We’re wondering if the meetings are as effective as they should be. We’re wondering if MISO is open enough. Sometimes you get better discussion in the hallway. [MISO staff] are more relaxed. Maybe because you’re in front of people, it’s harder to be completely open,” Weber said. She suggested setting aside meeting time for brainstorming sessions.
“We are in a bit of a rut in terms of how we process subject matter,” Volpe said. MISO is in a pattern of presenting on a given topic, requesting feedback and coming back with refinements in a months-long cycle, he said. “There really isn’t an open dialogue among subject matter experts and stakeholders. We’re in this rut of consistent feedback cycles, but we really don’t have that policy debate. I feel bad for the chair of these committees; they have to watch the clock and make sure someone goes through 30 slides in 20 minutes. That’s not possible.”
Chris Plante of Wisconsin Public Service said stakeholders could come to meetings armed with presentations of their own to prompt deeper conversations. He also said MISO should make member responses public by default.
Director Michael Evans said he’s seen nearly 12 years of stakeholder process, from “the food fight era” to the “pitchforks era.”
“I think we’re at a spot where the dialogue is healthy. Now it’s time to improve the content,” he said.
Director Tom Rainwater said the redesign is a “tremendous” effort. “I think what you’re emphasizing today is continuous improvement,” he said. Rainwater suggested MISO identify what improvements it could accomplish in 90, 180 and 365 days.
“This is your process. It’s not our process,” Director Judy Walsh told stakeholders. “I would encourage MISO to understand how it can better facilitate improvements into the process.”
“Anytime we bring a big group together, you can feel stuck and like you’re talking over one another,” Bennett said, before quoting the Beatles: “We can work it out.”
AC Priorities Take Cue from Subcommittee Purposes
During the meeting, the AC also adopted a set of priorities set forward by the Transmission Dependent Utilities sector that borrow from MISO subcommittee mission statements. (See “AC to Approve One of Two Sets of 2017 Priorities,” MISO Advisory Committee Briefs.)
Sectors voted 13-9 for the TDU’s offering over a slight revision of 2016 priorities proposed by AC leadership. The new priorities seek to implement best planning practices; preserve and enhance reliability; improve market efficiency; ensure resource adequacy; and ensure equitable cost allocation.