Electricity providers consider forming regional transmission organization

DENVER — Ten electricity service providers representing nearly 6.4 million customers in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region on Friday announced plans to explore participation with an existing regional transmission organization, known as an RTO, expanding their access to electricity markets.

The informal group, known as the Mountain West Transmission Group, began discussions in 2013 to evaluate numerous options ranging from a common transmission tariff to RTO participation. Mountain West said joining an RTO could result in optimized use of existing generation and transmission assets through an expanded electricity market; improved grid access; continued improved grid reliability services; and improved generation and transmission planning across multiple states and systems.

The group announced in a press release that it will begin discussions with the Southwest Power Pool, based in Little Rock Ark., as the next step in exploring potential membership with a particular RTO.

“In the event these discussions with SPP are unsuccessful, however, the participants may pursue similar discussions with either the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or PJM Interconnection, or both,” the press release stated.

“Participation in a regional market can provide operational efficiencies through economies of scale and increased opportunities to bring lower cost renewables into our system,” said Jason Frisbie, general manager and chief executive of the Fort Collins-based Platte River Power Authority, which serves Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland. “These advantages would enable us to add additional value for our member owners by increasing our ability to deliver reliable, cost-effective and environmentally-responsible energy.”

Steve Beuning, Xcel Energy’s director for market operations, said, joining an RTO “is a crucial step in evaluating the potential benefits of a regional energy market for the Mountain West.”

The Mountain West group would bring a combined 15,700 miles of transmission line to an existing RTO. The group has performed a transmission cost study, a projected market benefits study and an evaluation of proposals provided by four existing independent system operators, according to the press release.

Any final decision to join an RTO would come in mid-2017, with implementation by early 2019.

“While Mountain West is optimistic that an RTO may benefit its entire membership, each Mountain West participant will ultimately need to evaluate for itself whether potential membership makes sense,” the press release stated.

Participants in the Mountain West Transmission Group include:

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, based in Bismarck, N.D.

Black Hills Energy’s three electric utilities in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming, subsidiaries of the Rapid City-based Black Hills Corp.

Colorado Springs Utilities.

Platte River Power Authority, based in Fort Collins.

Public Service Co. of Colorado, an operating company of Denver-based Xcel Energy.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, based in Westminster.

Western Area Power Administration’s Loveland Area Projects and Colorado River Storage Project.

 

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