Important issues in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) were the focus of “Powering the Plains and Beyond: Energy Policy in America’s Heartland,” a workshop held in Austin, TX on December 11, 2017. Organized by the Great Plains Institute, this workshop gathered panels of experts to examine energy development and trends within the fourteen states in the SPP footprint and the potential expansion of SPP in the future.

Keynote presentation with Lanny Nickell, SPP’s Vice President of Engineering

Lanny Nickell, SPP’s Vice President of Engineering, opened the day with a keynote speech focusing on SPP’s changing energy mix, and the rapid expansion of renewable energy in the SPP footprint. Nickell reflected on the mission of SPP which is to “keep the lights on” and made sure to note the importance of fuel diversity in that mission.

The Southwest Power Pool is a region with huge potential in both solar and wind energy. Referring to SPP as a “renewables breadbasket,” Nickell pointed out that wind now supplies 20 percent of the SPP energy resource, with that percentage expected to continue rising. He highlighted the need for expanded transmission in the region, both to use the wind resource for SPP states, and to export wind to other regions.

Arkansas and Missouri regulators discuss current energy developments

Commissioner Steve Stoll of the Missouri Public Service Commission and Chairman Ted Thomas of the Arkansas Public Service Commission spoke about current energy developments within their respective states. Both Missouri and Arkansas are considered low-cost states for energy, so maintaining this affordability will be an important factor as expansion of renewable energy and adoption of other technologies continues.

Chairman Thomas noted three key factors in price fluctuation for consumers:

  • gas prices
  • federal policies
  • technology

Residents and communities must find value in the increased costs or will not embrace technology changes. The Commissioners noted large investments for expansion should consider affordability for consumers, and that many larger customers are looking for cleaner energy choices. The Commissioners also discussed the possibilities for other generation technologies, including small modular nuclear reactors, community solar and rooftop solar, and the issues surrounding each type of energy production.

Experts discuss opportunities for expanding wind energy in SPP

Opportunities for wind energy in SPP was the topic for the second panel of the workshop. Experts provided the audience insight into the potential for, and expansion of, wind energy within the SPP region. Vanessa Tutos, EDP Renewables, noted the current growth of wind energy in this region has been assisted by public policies and economic development. Wind energy provides widespread economic benefit for rural areas, from the continued agricultural use of land to maintenance and construction jobs. Jenny McIvor of MidAmerican Energy Company, discussed the large renewable energy capacity of MidAmerican Energy Company, which has the largest wind resource of a rate regulated utility. Renewable energy comprised 56 percent of the energy used by MidAmerican this year, with a goal of 100 percent. Ten years ago, none of MidAmerican’s generation was renewable energy.

Key factors for wind energy expansion: collaboration and infrastructure

When expanding wind energy, two themes arose during the panel’s discussion: adequate transmission and working in a collaborative manner. Steve Gaw, of the Wind Coalition and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) noted, “If you don’t have adequate transmission, things will come to a halt.” This applies especially to larger projects. Rob Gramlich, of Grid Strategies LLC, stressed the importance of maximizing wind resources by delivering more within existing wires and operating the grid at maximum efficiency. In a large region like SPP, states will need to work together for the better benefit of the whole area, as there is no unified policy from the federal government to expand wind energy in any region. Gaw also indicated that SPP’s ability to match supply and demand has been essential to wind expansion in the region, and that this expansion could not have been accomplished with traditional balancing authorities alone.

Perspectives on the potential geographic expansion of SPP into the Mountain West

The final panel of the afternoon provided perspectives on the potential expansion of SPP into the mountain west region. Lanny Nickell of SPP explained that the collaborative nature of SPP is attractive to the mountain west, and their inclusion would provide benefits both to the new area as well as the members in the existing SPP footprint. Steve Beuning of Xcel Energy said that renewable variability wasn’t within the supply mix back when other RTOs were created, and there is potential benefit from changing the load shape in SPP. Beuning noted some reasons for possible hesitation in joining SPP. John Moore of the Sustainable FERC Project continued on the topic of hesitation by pointing out how a membership in SPP is expensive, and will thus result in some entities being left out. Large exit fees are another concern for potential members.

Chairman Jeff Ackermann of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission focused on the governance structure of SPP, and raised a number of issues that are of interest as expansion is pursued. Chairman Ackermann and Moore continued with a discussion on interconnection seam studies and how multiple growth patterns within the region are probable. This growth could result in the expansion of existing power pools.

A special thanks to our speakers for providing such a productive dialogue and thoughtful discussion on these very important respective topics.

For a full recording of the workshop, click here.

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