Monday, February 18, 2019

MTEP 18 Advancing with 2 Contentious Projects

By Amanda Durish Cook

MISO staff are seeking to advance the RTO’s full 2018 Transmission Expansion Plan despite stakeholder objections to two projects, board members heard last week.

Staff recommend moving ahead with all 442 projects currently spelled out in the $3.3 billion plan, but the Planning Advisory Committee endorsed only 439 of the proposals, Executive Director of System Planning Aubrey Johnson said during a Nov. 13 conference call of the Board of Directors’ System Planning Committee.

The MISO System Planning Committee of the Board of Directors in September | © RTO Insider

The two projects sparking concern at the PAC include the rebuild of the Wabaco-Rochester 161-kV line in southern Minnesota and American Transmission Co.’s Straits of Mackinac project to replace a 138-kV circuit connecting Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. Stakeholders have complained the costs for the Wabaco-Rochester project will shift from generator interconnection customers to local load customers and have said that an alternate solution would better suit the Mackinaw area.

The third proposal not receiving endorsement has stirred less controversy: ITC Midwest’s capacitor bank project at the Walters 161/69-kV substation in southern Minnesota, which was only held from endorsement to allow MISO to update the project’s details. (See MISO PAC Puts MTEP 18 to Vote, Removes 3 Projects.)

The 10 voting sectors of MISO’s Advisory Committee eventually voted 5.25 in favor of the nearly complete MTEP 18, with 2.75 opposed and two abstentions. MISO’s sectors can divide their single vote based on differing opinions between organizations and companies within the same sector.

MISO is openly defying the strong objections of at least some stakeholders by recommending that the Wabaco-Rochester line and Straits of Mackinac circuit rebuild move ahead as planned.

Johnson said MISO staff are recommending the $11 million Wabaco-Rochester project despite stakeholder concerns over cost allocation and Xcel Energy’s request to defer the project in favor of a larger solution later. The RTO said the project improves market efficiency and has benefits “well in excess of costs” at 6.8:1. Johnson said staff have studied alternatives to the project, including proposals submitted by Xcel.

“The area is experiencing congestion currently, and there are no generator interconnection customers identified as responsible for upgrading this circuit,” MISO said.

MTEP 18 breakdown | MISO

MISO also continues to recommend ATC’s $105 million plan to replace its underwater circuit linking Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, which was damaged last year when the cables were struck by a passing vessel.

While stakeholders agree that ATC’s damaged cables should be replaced, some are divided on whether the cables should be installed on the bottom of the lake or in an underwater tunnel. Stakeholders have raised the possibility of an interim solution if the more complex tunnel option is needed. Some have also proposed alternative or joint ownership of the replaced cables.

Johnson said MISO believes the best course of action is ATC “expeditiously” replacing the cables, which solves the immediate planning issue. He also pointed out that ATC has the right to replace its own equipment under the terms of MISO’s Transmission Owner Agreement.

Johnson added that MISO “does not address regulatory requirements governing the manner of placement of the cables within the straits, as that is a state siting issue.” The siting on the Mackinac project has not been finalized with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The uncontroversial $11 million Walters substation project was originally proposed as a line and transformer project but has evolved into a capacitor bank installment to improve voltages in the area. The PAC withheld approval so the alternate project could be updated into the MTEP 18 list. MISO said it has since updated the project details and isn’t aware of any outstanding stakeholder issues with the project. Johnson said the issue was resolved prior to the close of the PAC meeting in October.

Stakeholder Pushback

During the call, Director Phyllis Currie asked for stakeholder reaction to MISO’s decision to move ahead with the Wabaco-Rochester project, but none offered opinions during the open comment period. It was later discovered that technical difficulties prevented stakeholders from getting a line opened on the operator-assisted call. MISO held a special comment period by phone on Nov. 15, and CEO John Bear that same day apologized to stakeholders for the mishap during an Informational Forum.

During the make-up call, stakeholders repeated criticisms of the two proposed projects.

Representatives of Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative said the company submitted an alternative proposal to the Mackinac project and said MISO staff may have been too quick to dismiss it.

But ATC’s Brian Drumm said MISO evaluated the project and alternatives properly. He also pointed to ATC’s contractual right to perform upgrades on its own equipment.

Dairyland Power Cooperative’s Terry Torgerson said MISO’s estimated savings on the Wabaco-Rochester line are overstated.

Xcel Energy’s Carolyn Wetterlin said Xcel and MISO also “ended on a disagreement” this year concerning the Rochester-Wabaco line. She said the proposed line only shifts congestion into another area. Wetterlin asked that MISO delay the solution until MTEP 19.

The board will vote on whether to approve MTEP 18 in its entirety at its meeting on Dec. 6.