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California's Revolution in Western Energy Markets

A renewables push will have sweeping regional and national impact.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Bonneville Power Administration is a major player in Western energy markets. The Energy Times’ recently talked with BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer on the regional impact of bold new renewables and storage initiatives in California ahead of the landmark California Renewables Rush conference in San Francisco April 6 supported by virtually all major utilities in the state. This is the first of a two-part series. Next week: “Building BPA’s Competitive Financial Strength.”

THE ENERGY TIMES: California is executing a massive pivot, planning to get half of their generation from renewables and build 1.3 gigawatts of storage by 2030. How disruptive will that be in the markets that Bonneville serves?
MAINZER: That’s the million dollar question. Like everybody else, we are running numbers, analytics on load resource balance and trying to figure out what the impact of the so called “duck curve” will be in the West. That includes the impact on wholesale energy prices and what it all means for the demand for ramping capacity. Certainly there will be major impacts. We’re trying to position ourselves in terms of our hydro to be able to adapt to the changing patterns of pricing, and the changing patterns of demand. We hope to participate in the emerging markets for balancing capacity that are going to open up across the West. So it will be disruptive. It’ll probably present both significant challenges and opportunities.
THE ENERGY TIMES: Will the changes in California require Bonneville Power to build any additional transmission? Will you be required to ramp up your deployment of intelligence throughout the grid?


Elliot Mainzer, BPA administrator

MAINZER: In terms of grid intelligence, we - like many others - are investing heavily in our state awareness tools. We’ve put a lot of syncrophasors on our grid and we’re working on graphical tools for our dispatchers to understand what’s happening on the system. I do not anticipate Bonneville having to build more transmission to accommodate what’s happening in California. There may be others who get interested in building more transmission. The existing interties between California and the Northwest have a significant amount of transfer capacity, especially south to north during those periods when California is going to be exporting power.

THE ENERGY TIMES: To the extent that California really ramps up its renewables and energy storage assets, will that force other regions in the west to adopt similar policies
MAINZER: Certainly California, especially with its aggressive renewable portfolio standard, is establishing the high water mark for renewables demand. A lot of people are going to pay attention to that. We’ve seen here in Oregon recently new legislation to ramp up the Oregon renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2040. It’s become pretty mainstream thinking amongst utilities and utility planners that the type of generating resources we’re going to build over the next few years to meet growing load and capacity obligations will need to be more flexible than traditional gas-fired generation to help accommodate the variability of renewables across the West. I don’t know whether other regions are going to be going out and building big storage plants to take advantage of California oversupply problems. Today the costs associated with storage projects are still very high. Wide area markets and fuel displacement transactions, with occasional curtailment are more likely to be the first order solutions.


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