A Power Plan for the Midwest

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Post date: October 1, 2013
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The U.S. electricity system is in a period of rapid change, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees. We have a grid in need of significant updates, given the 21st century policy and business demands confronting the electric power industry.

So how do you plan, pay for, and operate an electricity system that accommodates renewable energy and modern distributed technologies, all while maintaining reliability at the lowest possible cost? America’s Power Plan attempts to answer that daunting question. Curated by the Energy Foundation in partnership with Energy Innovation, America’s Power Plan (APP) is a policy roadmap for dealing with disruptive challenges in the power sector and achieving a high-renewables future. It features a series of eight white papers that cover the gamut from distributed resources and transmission expansion to electricity market and regulatory design.

One clear theme is that these issues need to be grappled with differently by region. Great Plains Institute was proud to have recently hosted and facilitated a Midwestern briefing in St. Paul to gather feedback on how aspects of America’s Power Plan could be most effectively applied to our region, and Minnesota in particular. The briefing featured authors from three of the whitepapers (Distributed Generation, Distributed Energy Technologies, and Utility Business Models), along with regulators, utility representatives, and advocates from Minnesota and across the Midwest. For more details, see our summary report and meeting presentations.

These topics are timely for Minnesota because the state recently passed new energy legislation in 2013 which, among other things, includes:

  • A Solar Energy Standard mandate which adds 1.5% solar generation to the state Renewable Electricity Standard.
  • Establishment of a “value of solar” tariff that credits solar customers for the value of operating distributed solar systems. In addition to the cost of energy, the tariff takes into account grid and environmental benefits.
  • Engineering studies that look at increasing the renewable requirement to higher levels and scoping what a fossil free energy future for the state would look like.

Spurred by this new law and declining costs, investments in distributed generation (DG) like solar are beginning to scale in Minnesota, and new third party ownership and community-shared financing structures can further facilitate adoption. To date, the Midwest has been a national leader in integrating large-scale wind energy on the bulk power system (although more can be done). As we begin to integrate distributed resources, lessons learned from large-scale renewable integration can be applied to distributed technologies. For example, we can do more comprehensive planning around electric distribution systems (think power lines in your neighborhood versus along interstate highways), to identify lines that need upgrades and to incent consumers to make smart economic decisions on where to site small-scale generation.

Many challenges exist in achieving a reliable, clean and efficient electricity system, and these ideas are just the beginning for Minnesota and the region.