Out West student blog

Clearing Up Electrical Resource Adequacy in the West (Or Trying To…)

Colorado State Capital Building from the end of the 16th St. Mall. (Photo credit: Carly Eckstrom)

By Carly Eckstrom
Political Science, 2019
Intern at the Western Interstate Energy Board

 

 

The Western Interstate Energy Board (WIEB, pronounced “weeb”) offices sit above the State Capitol and the financial district of downtown Denver. At weekly meetings on Monday mornings, I look out the windows of the conference room and I can see City Park, the Denver Zoo, and countless other landmarks peeking out over the trees. If I position myself just right, I can see the watery golden reflection of the Colorado State Capitol dome in the windows of a neighboring building as I hear about the organization’s latest activities from my colleagues.

WIEB is an organization of 11 western states and three Canadian provinces. The Board hosts projects ranging from negotiating the possible interstate transportation of nuclear spent fuel, to smoothing the transition among western electricity “Reliability Coordinators.”

That watery image, if I were to lean into this metaphor, could be used as a sort of symbol of the blurred picture of interstate western electricity supply that my fellow Stanford intern and I are attempting to clarify at the Western Interstate Energy Board. WIEB is an organization of 11 western states and three Canadian provinces that began under the Western Interstate Nuclear Compact. Today, the Board hosts projects ranging from negotiating the possible interstate transportation of nuclear spent fuel to smoothing the transition among western electricity “Reliability Coordinators.” Together with Xuesi Shen, a Ph.D candidate in Management Science and Engineering, my project this summer is to take stock of the current electrical “resource adequacy” landscape in the West, and to write a proposal that would lead to improvements in western resource planning.

Resource Adequacy (RA) is the metric by which utilities, or other “Load Serving Entities” (LSEs), assess whether their generating capacity can meet forecasted demand – plus some margin of error. RA is a contentious issue in the fiercely independent West. It has become clear to Xuesi and me that we are trying to make a full image from a picture of regional resource adequacy that has never been fully complete. There is no single standard for resource planning across the western grid. Instead, western states maintain a patchwork of planning guidelines that LSEs are required to follow. RA is tomorrow’s problem, and too often only dramatic events can bring concern for resource adequacy to the forefront of state regulators’ agendas.

The graph above depicts the reserves (capacity that exceeds the forecasted peak demand for electricity, measured as a percent of forecasted demand) for all of the LSEs in the West. The black line labeled, "Minimum Level of Reserves" and "Building Block Margin" is the amount of reserves required to maintain reliable access to electricity in the West. The gray bars represent both the existing resources shown by the red bar and other combinations of planned resources. For further information and a more thorough description of this graph, see page nine of the 2016 Power Supply Assessment available on the WECC System Adequacy Planning webpage.

There is no single standard for resource planning across the western grid. Instead, western states maintain a patchwork of planning guidelines. RA is tomorrow’s problem, and only dramatic events can bring concern for resource adequacy to the forefront of state regulators’ agendas.

Today, the West is presented with a crisis of this sort. Due to massive coal generation retirements by 2023, and large increases in variable generation, regulators are again confronted with the challenge of ensuring their states can continue to keep the lights on. These abrupt shifts, combined with a concerning lack of up-to-date, region-wide resource adequacy reports, have left regulators across the West playing catch-up.

Xuesi’s and my project, a new information collection framework, will hopefully help state regulators verify that LSEs have sufficient capacity to meet their peak needs – either through short-term purchases from other states’ jurisdictions, or by new procurement.

The intent of the framework is to place western resource adequacy into focus, so regulators can identify structural flaws before the system undergoes unnecessary stress. Then, like any other policy issue, we just have to convince stakeholders to adopt something like it.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

Recent Center News

Wildfire smoke erases years of clean-air gains; why the biggest Colorado River water users will have the most trouble cutting back, despite likely new requirements; disproportionate Arizona heat deaths among trailer residents; insects still protected by California’s endangered species act, and more environmental news from around the West.
A bighorn sheep lies dead by the side of U.S. Highway 85 in western North Dakota (North Dakota Department of Game and Fish) By Felicity Barringer Up Close
Stanford researchers have developed an AI model for predicting dangerous particle pollution to help track the American West’s rapidly worsening wildfire smoke. The detailed results show millions of Americans are routinely exposed to pollution at levels rarely seen just a decade ago.