Virginia electric utilities and co-ops weigh in on possible transmission reforms
As renewables reshape the grid, federal officials are evaluating whether current ways of planning are good enough
With renewables poised to flood the electric grid and a rising push for electrification of everything from vehicles to appliances, federal regulators and electricity companies are zeroing in on what they say is a weak link in the system: transmission.
Transmission is often called the backbone of the electric grid. It’s how large quantities of electricity get from the places where power is generated to the places where it’s needed. (The third component of the grid, distribution, deals with transporting those electrons into actual homes and businesses.)
But while building transmission has never been a simple job, it historically was much more straightforward. Electricity flowed one way, from power plants outward. Fewer, more centralized plants supplied everyone. And those plants were typically sited near the places of greatest need, like cities and industrial centers.
Today all that is changing. According to an examination by Dominion Energy of projects pending federal approval for interconnection to the PJM grid — of which Virginia is a part — 562 of 568 projects proposed for the utility’s zone are for renewables. Increased “distributed” generation like rooftop solar means that electricity now flows not just from the grid to the customer, but also from the customer to the grid. Instead of a few large plants, electricity will also now flow from a growing number of sites that produce power intermittently. And renewables, which depend on geographical and climatic conditions to produce electricity, are less likely to be sited near load centers.
Consequently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is looking at whether decades-old systems for planning and building out transmission need to be overhauled “and, if so, which changes are necessary to ensure that transmission rates remain just and reasonable and not unduly discriminatory or preferential and that reliability is maintained.”
Several Virginia utilities and electric co-ops have weighed in on that debate in comments filed with FERC this month. Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, which supplies power to nine of the state’s 13 electric co-ops, did not file any comments, but Dominion Energy, Appalachian Power’s parent company American Electric Power and Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative did.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.
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