Tri-State and Western Energy Imbalance Service
By Loren Howard
All around us the world is changing – some good changes, some not so good changes. The electric utility industry has not been immune to change like so many facets of the world. Renewable energy, such as solar, wind and hydro power, have grown into providing a substantial portion of the electric energy supplied throughout the world including the United States. Utility scale solar, such as the large solar facilities in the San Luis Valley, is integrated into the generation dispatch throughout Colorado. Distributed generation resources, typically solar, have expanded significantly almost everywhere in the United States. On the REC system, there are now more than 1000 kW of solar net metering.
All these changes in the industry have added to the complexity and challenges of operating the electric grid, which has an incredible record of reliability. In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Policy Act which implemented a whole host of reliability and security regulations for the electric utility industry. One of the most significant outcomes of these regulations was the formation of Independent System Operators (ISO) and Regional Transmission Operators (RTO) which has since 2005, transformed the wholesale electric power system.
Both ISOs and RTOs are providing “markets” which manage either generation or transmission or both. Through these markets, regional generation and transmission is managed or “dispatched” using very complex and sophisticated software; through this dispatch, generation and transmission resources are being using more efficiently. This dispatching of resources has provided for better integration of renewable resources since solar and wind are not controllable generation facilities.
Tri-State has announced that it will be joining the Western Energy Imbalance Service (WEIS) created by the Southern Power Pool (SPP) which is an RTO. WEIS will provide many of the benefits of an ISO or RTO including effectively dispatching generation and ensuring transmission is reliably and efficiently used.
While you as a member of REC might be wondering “Why is this important to me?” Tri-State, like every other large generator of electricity has in the past, planned and built generation assets necessary to meet future requirements. Adding large, cost-effective generation resources means there are periods of time, typically measured in years, where these entities have more generation than is required to meet current loads plus the required reserves. Tri-State is “long” on generation and joining the WEIS will provide Tri-State a more efficient way of selling their excess generation into the “market,” which in turn means better utilization of the existing generation resources. This translates into keeping the wholesale power cost to member cooperatives of Tri-State as low as possible. Tri-State has not increased their wholesale power costs to REC for more than two years and is projecting it can avoid increases for likely three more years. Joining the WEIS is another way Tri-State is striving to deliver wholesale to its member cooperatives at as low a cost possible.