Western Grid Panelists Emphasize Regional Coordination to Maintain System Adequacy

A panel of energy representatives briefed the Council at its November meeting on how Western states are keeping the lights on. Increasing loads, a changing resource mix, and extreme weather events have become pressing challenges to power system adequacy, highlighting the importance of broad system coordination. Panelists included President and CEO of California Independent System Operator Elliot Mainzer (presentation and video); Senior Vice President of Advanced Energy Delivery at Portland General Electric Larry Bekkedahl (presentation and video); Vice President of System Operations at Bonneville Power Administration Ricky Bustamante (presentation and video); and Senior Manager of Transmission and Markets at Idaho Power Kathy Anderson (video).

The panelists addressed how reginal coordination has become critical to maintaining system reliability. As Mainzer noted, the last five to seven years have been a time of profound changes in the resource mix across the Western U.S. With a reduction in coal generation, significant load growth (particularly in the technology sector), and a large increase in renewable energy, the West is seeing increased variability in both generation and loads. Coupled with extreme weather events and heat waves lasting later into the year, the power system is experiencing increased periods of stress.

Mainzer, Bustamante, and Bekkedahl discussed the coordination required during the August 14-16 heat event in the Pacific Northwest. During this period, Portland General Electric hit a system peak driven by rapidly increasing loads from the technology sector and more air conditioning load coming online since the 2021 heat dome. During this same period, California was experiencing milder temperatures and lower loads. Despite the excess energy available from California, existing transmission constraints created challenges for managing the unprecedented levels of south to north power flows. Close collaboration between these entities, as well as significant new demand response, was essential for Portland General Electric to reliably deliver power to its customers.

Anderson followed up describing some of the challenges faced by Idaho Power in recent years. Idaho Power has experienced significant load growth and is forecasting an additional 5.5 percent growth over the next five years. Idaho, too, has seen its share of extreme temperatures, with two of the last three years bringing the hottest temperatures yet. Changing conditions across the West are changing some of the power flows Idaho Power is experiencing, with more power coming from the desert southwest and then east to west across their system to serve loads along the I-5 corridor. Echoing themes from her fellow panelists, Anderson highlighted the importance of regional coordination, as well as leveraging demand response and new resources like energy storage, to ensure resource adequacy.

As loads continue to grow and the resource mix changes, utilities across the Northwest will be exploring the benefits of regional coordination, while also developing new supply and demand side resources. The Council looks forward to learning from these entities as it seeks to develop robust recommendations in its next regional power plan supporting an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply.