In a first, the US will require grid planning for 20 years into the future

US grid operators haven’t been practicing long-term transmission planning, but for the first time, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) just made it mandatory.

FERC now requires proactive grid planning

FERC oversees interstate electricity transmission. The rule it released today, Order No. 1920, adopts specific requirements for transmission providers in the lower 47 states for long-term planning for regional transmission facilities. They also have to determine how to pay for them. (Texas has an an isolated grid, so it’s excluded.)

FERC gathered “tens of thousands of pages of comments, filed over the course of the past three years,” from stakeholders in the power industry, advocacy groups, and government bodies.

FERC chairman Willie Phillips said, “Our nation needs a new foundation to get badly needed new transmission planned, paid for, and built. With this new rule, that starts today.”

Operators are now required to conduct and periodically update long-term transmission planning over a 20-year time horizon to anticipate future needs. The order also provides for cost-effective expansion of transmission that’s being replaced, when needed – that’s known as “right-sizing” transmission facilities. FERC says Order No. 1920 “expressly provides for the states’ pivotal role throughout the process of planning, selecting, and determining how to pay for transmission lines.”

Phillips added:

Over the last dozen years, FERC has worked on five after-action reports on lessons learned from extreme weather events that caused outages that cost hundreds of lives and millions of dollars. We must get beyond these after-action reports and start planning to maintain a reliable grid that powers our entire way of life.

The rule also encourages grid innovation by requiring transmission providers to consider advanced transmission technologies that drive down ratepayer costs. Julia Selker, executive director of the WATT Coalition, said in a statement, “Grid enhancing technologies will be vital to achieving the seven economic and reliability benefits in the rule, especially production cost savings, reducing grid congestion, and improving performance in extreme weather.”

Melissa Alfano, senior director of energy markets and counsel for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said in a statement:

Our energy system has vastly different needs than it did when the grid was built out over a century ago, and today FERC stepped up to account for many of these needs… As transmission providers comply with this rule, FERC will need to remain vigilant to ensure effective and meaningful implementation.

You can read the major points in FERC’s fact sheet here.

Electrek’s Take

Transmission providers actually having a long-term strategy in place for the US grid seems like such an obvious thing that one would assume it was already in place, but it wasn’t. Turns out grid operators weren’t planning for the long term.

As FERC’s chairman mentions above about getting beyond after-action reports, the grid operators now have to move from reactive to proactive. Better late than never with this major move to upgrade and expand the US grid.

This ruling isn’t going to be a magic bullet, as it will take years to roll out. Plus, there will be the inevitable head butting among states due to disparate rollout plans for renewables.

But ultimately, this is great news. The grid will have more capacity for renewables and become more resilient in extreme weather as these (finally) forward-looking plans are put into place.

Read more: The US just came up with a plan to upgrade 100k miles of transmission lines in 5 years

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