Calif. transmission plan looks to connect renewable energy-rich areas

The state of California is trying to find ways to carry its abundance of renewable energy from areas that have it to areas that do not. Last week, the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) released Phase 2 of its conceptual transmission plan, designed to develop a renewable energy infrastructure.

RETI is a unique public-private partnership, composed of groups with seemingly divergent agendas. Originally comprised of state agencies, and industry advocacy organizations, RETI was first established by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California Energy Commission, and California Independent System Operator (CAISO). Shortly thereafter, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the Northern California Power Agency, and the Southern California Public Power Authority expressed interest in helping to develop transmission planning, and even the Sierra Club has given the group praise.

In Phase 1 of the plan, RETI identified areas of the state and adjoining regions that have comparative advantages in producing biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind energy. A system of ranking these regions, referred to as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), was established and in Phase 2 work has been done to expand and re-rank CREZs. More central to Phase 2, however, was the development of a statewide conceptual transmission expansion plan to access the various CREZs.

“Insufficient transmission is a major barrier to developing renewable power and bringing the power to where it is needed,” CPUC President Michael Peevey, said in a statement. The transmission plan is designed to develop a renewable energy grid, linking CREZs, without significantly adding to the number of transmission facilities already in place. State officials also believe the transmission plan will help guide future transmission planning, as well as help the state meet its goal of obtaining one-third of the state’s electricity from renewable resources by 2020.

“The output from this report will assist those of us who have to plan, permit, and build transmission in making more informed decisions on integrating renewable energy delivery into our planning for grid reliability,” Jim Shetler, SMUD Assistant General Manger for Energy Supply, said.

RETI 2A CA map

Based on information gathered by RETI about the potential for renewable development, the Phase 2 report:

  • Identifies additional transmission capacity to access and deliver renewable energy to meet the state renewable energy goals in 2020.
  • Evaluates relative usefulness of potential lines for accessing the delivering renewable energy.
  • Identifies potential transmission network lines for further detailed study by the California ISO and electric utilities.
  • Locates most conceptual lines in existing right of way and/or designated utility corridors.
  • Builds in environmental considerations and high level screening of conceptual transmission lines.

“This report is the result of a process that has never been attempted before; a process that was designed to achieve consensus,” Mr. Peevey said.

Carl Zichella of the Sierra Club agreed, saying, “RETI is the improved model for good planning: Anyone who plans a line from now on needs to realize that RETI has set a new standard for public involvement in all stages of transmission planning.”

To read the RETI Phase 2A report, click here (.pdf).