WASHINGTON — Transmission developers, planners and regulators gathered last week at the Washington Marriott Georgetown hotel for the three-day Infocast Transmission Summit East. While grid security was on the minds of all who attended, speakers also had plenty of opportunities to vent about FERC Order 1000 and RTO planning processes — as well as poke fun at Ted Koppel.
DOE Official Briefs ‘North American Model’
Bruce Walker, assistant secretary of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at the U.S. Department of Energy, briefed attendees Wednesday on five initiatives by the department to enhance grid security.
The most ambitious, by the department’s Grid Modernization Lab Consortium, is developing a “North American all-energy systems model” that includes all the grid operators across North America and identifying their interdependencies.
“Once we’ve got this model, we’ll be able to do real-time analysis [and] next-worst-case analysis, so when an excursion occurs on any one of the major systems in the United States or Canada or Mexico, we’ll be able to run it and understand what that means and what the next-worst piece of equipment or system is to lose, so that we can proactively act to prevent that, whether it’s providing physical security, whether it’s changing the load flows on the grid to lessen the load or demand in one particular place,” Walker said. Many of these actions would be taken by RTOs, he said.
The model will be so comprehensive, he said, that it will be able to do “N-K” load-flow analysis, with the “K” standing for assets that aren’t traditionally considered part of the electric grid. (See related story, “Beyond N-1,” Tx Summit Attendees Struggle to Define ‘Resiliency’ Problem.)
Another initiative is “megawatt-scale storage strategically being utilized throughout the grid.” Walker said this initiative ties in with the North American Model, which will allow the department to “identify where the best investments of these” storage assets would be.
This raised the eyebrow of Rob Gramlich, president of Grid Strategies. “‘Identifying best investments’: that sounds like a market function. How does this initiative interact with the market?” he asked.
“Because we’re focused on the resiliency component — and then we’re specifically focused on critical infrastructure — … the market actually has no place in making the determination for those investments,” Walker responded. “So part of why we got FERC, NERC and DOE looking at the system and building this model is we come at it from slightly different angles. FERC’s angle is a bit more market-driven; NERC’s is more reliability-driven; DOE has got very specific requirements, being the sector-specific agency for cybersecurity in the energy industry, focusing in on critical infrastructure throughout the United States.”
Impact of Ukraine-style Attack Would be Less
A cyberattack on the U.S. grid by a foreign power such as the one experienced by Ukraine in 2015 and 2016 is certainly possible, several experts said in a Wednesday panel on cybersecurity.
But Ukraine lacks the basic protections and infrastructure of the U.S., meaning such an attack would be far less disruptive and destructive here, they said.
Or as moderator Brian Harrell, senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, quipped, “I don’t know too many utilities here in the United States running pirated versions of Windows XP on their systems. So, there are some differences here.”
The general consensus among the panel, which included a National Guard colonel, was that utilities need to be incentivized to do more than the minimum required by NERC, as well as be on guard for insider threats.
But the panelists unanimously labeled as off-base the assertion made by broadcast journalist Ted Koppel in his book “Lights Out” — the mention of which drew laughter from the audience — that the U.S. is susceptible to a catastrophic attack and that industry and government are not taking the threats seriously.
Flaws in Planning Processes
Many speakers complained about the transmission planning processes in RTOs, including the competitive and interregional processes.
On a Thursday panel discussing the effects of renewable energy resources on transmission planning, Invenergy Senior Vice President Kris Zadlo said he doesn’t “think transmission planning is happening.”
“Operating lines that [are] 2% overloaded or replacing transformers: that’s not transmission planning,” Zadlo said. “That’s asset management.”
He pointed to American Electric Power’s Wind Catcher Energy Connection Project, which Kelly Pearce, director of contracts and analysis for the company, had briefed attendees on earlier in the day. The project would be the largest wind energy facility in the U.S at 2 GW, with a dedicated 765-kV tie line from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Tulsa.
“Folks are trying to find end-arounds,” Zadlo said. Wind Catcher is a “360-mile end-around because SPP’s transmission planning process has failed. … Quite frankly it’s disgraceful that we have to wait three to five years for an interconnection study to be processed by utilities and by ISOs.”
Kip Fox, president of Electric Transmission Texas, said, “One thing we do notice across all of the RTOs that everybody should kind of think about is we’re not seeing a lot of interregional” projects. “We are not seeing projects that are going across RTOs. And unfortunately, that’s where the big bang for the buck economically is going to be. And usually I find it’s a fight over who’s going to pay for that project, rather than whether that project makes sense.”
On a separate panel Thursday, Kamran Ali, AEP vice president of grid development, noted that between 2012 and 2016, PJM identified 72 projects that were open for competition. Of those, only three ended up being assigned to nonincumbent utilities, he said.
Trump Admin’s Effects?
Speakers at the conference uniformly dismissed the actions of the Trump administration as having any effect on the growth of renewables and the retirement of coal-fired generation. Even as one attendee announced to the conference that President Trump had imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports Thursday afternoon, panelists were not concerned.
“There’s something interesting that’s going to happen in 2020,” Zadlo said. “It’s not that the [production tax credits] are going to run out.” Nor is it the next presidential election year. “In 2020, millennials will be over 50% of the workforce. Have you guys polled the millennials as to what their feelings and thoughts are regarding renewable energy? If you haven’t, you better. Because they want it.”
— Michael Brooks