LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — SPP Board of Directors Chair Larry Altenbaumer last week unveiled a proposal to reduce the number of face-to-face meetings and add more executive sessions, saying it would improve the board’s focus on its strategic plan.
While no final decisions have been made, Altenbaumer told the Strategic Planning Committee he is proposing adding two executive time slots to the board and Members Committee’s quarterly meetings and eliminating the two non-quarterly face-to-face board sessions. The executive time would be used for discussions with the state regulators’ Regional State Committee and the Members Committee.
Altenbaumer called the changes part of the board’s “broader evolution,” but that he was sensitive to concerns about taking discussions behind closed doors. He said the executive sessions are not intended to be decision-making meetings but will improve the quality of the discussions.
“Does this reduce the transparency of the organization? We want to be very much on guard that does not happen,” Altenbaumer said. “We want to ensure that in the forums where decisions are made that all stakeholders have the opportunity to participate. I think [meeting with] an outside resource in a smaller setting provides a greater quality of interaction.”
The new chairman, who took his position at the head of the table following April’s board meeting, said he was driven by the outcome of efforts to integrate the Mountain West Transmission Group. SPP received pushback late in the process from the RSC and members, who felt cut out of some of the earlier discussions.
The work to integrate Mountain West is officially ongoing, but most Western entities are now focused on securing reliability coordination services from SPP and CAISO with the pending shutdown of Peak Reliability. (See Peak Reliability to Wind Down Operations.)
“Despite a lot of effort and a ton of meetings [with Mountain West], I think we failed at effectively communicating with both the RSC and our members,” Altenbaumer said. “I had a lot of one-on-one interactions with members to address an issue. On many strategic issues, there is a variety of opinions on how those items need to be addressed. If we can facilitate a discussion with all members on the Members Committee, we’ll get a more robust discussion and up-front direction for all our stakeholder groups to address those issues.”
Altenbaumer said the organizational strategy should be determined by the board and Members Committee, but he remarked, “I don’t think we’ve always acted as owners of that strategy.” He said he prefers setting aside time to “discuss matters of strategic importance” in place of quarterly reports.
The chairman reassured the SPC that it is still the committee responsible for developing SPP’s strategic plan.
“This is where the technical expertise resides,” he said. “I hope there will be dialogue back and forth to ensure we’re discussing issues of strategic matters.”
Altenbaumer wants to eliminate the board’s June education session and the December meeting in which the board approves the budget. The December meeting would become a conference call.
He is also proposing the board delegate to the Markets and Operations Policy Committee decisions “that need not be brought to the board.”
SPC Takes No Action on Clean Energy Rule
The committee decided not to have SPP provide comments on EPA’s proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, determining there is little to be gained, but much to lose.
In explaining the ACE rule to the SPC, Vice President of Engineering Lanny Nickell said the rule is “less onerous” than the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which required a 32% cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.
The ACE rule applies only to existing coal-fired plants and does not set a federal carbon-emission rate, requiring states to set unit-specific standards, Nickell said.
“From a reliability perspective, it’s a lot more flexible and easier to anticipate than output limitations,” he said.
Nickell conducted several CPP studies after its 2014 release. The final analysis indicated that a state-by-state compliance approach could result in nearly 40% higher costs than a regional approach.
Nickell said there is no reason for SPP to study the ACE rule’s “rate-based approach” or to issue a statement. “I don’t have any personal concerns about its reliability implications,” he said. EPA has issued an Oct. 31 deadline for public comments.
“We haven’t made a quantitative analysis” of the new rule, he pointed out. “It would be an opinion we are offering, what we think the implication of ACE would be. We would be making an opinion without a quantitative analysis.”
“I love you guys, but you’re thinking like electrical engineers rather than politicians,” said Director Phyllis Bernard, who has a strong background in administrative law. “Your opinion, while qualitative, is far superior from the opinion of someone out there who is putting out spin. You can make a difference. If you say nothing, the default position may go back to something you don’t want to hear. If you think something in the proposed rule is positive, you should say that.”
Several members urged SPP to rely on the facts — no reliability impact; the market is producing emission-reductions through the dispatch of cleaner fuels — and provide comments.
“If you don’t say anything, someone will go on the record and dictate the final rule,” said Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Mike Risan.
“Once we say something, it invites questions,” Altenbaumer countered. “One of the first questions I would ask is, ‘How can you make that assertion if you haven’t done any studies?’ I don’t know why you go down that path if there are no benefits, other than a feel-good.”
Mike Ross, SPP’s senior vice president of government affairs and public relations and a six-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Arkansas, cautioned against going public with comments on the rule.
“Our job is to be fuel agnostic and let the markets choose the fuel source and to focus on reliability. The proposed rule by this administration is going to be adopted, whether we comment or not, and since it won’t impact reliability, I don’t think we should comment. It’ll be tied up in the courts for years. When we are trying to make decisions on 40- and 50-year assets, our country needs a national energy policy that transcends administrations and political parties.”
Asked whether the ISO/RTO Council has weighed in on the ACE, CEO Nick Brown noted that the industry group was silent on the CPP.
“It’s certainly not going to step up as a group and comment on this, as it doesn’t appear to have any impact on the bulk power system,” Brown said.
— Tom Kleckner