States in the western US are discussing setting up a regional transmission organization (RTO). The purpose of an RTO is to support the growth of renewable energy. Colorado and Nevada recently passed legislation to study requiring the project.
Supporters of a multi-state RTO say it would help build new transmission lines. Energy policy experts see the lack of transmission lines between states as a major barrier to linking wind and solar power to the grid. Currently, utilities need approval from multiple state regulators before building transmission lines. The creation of an RTO would allow utilities to deal with one agency only.
A good example of the present challenge is Nevada. The state is home to a significant geothermal energy sector. It is also rapidly expanding its solar and wind power generation capacity. Local politicians believe the state could become an energy exporter to larger western markets, such as California. However, there isn’t enough transmission infrastructure to move power between the states.
Earlier this year, Nevada’s public utility commission delayed its approval for a plan to build new transmission lines. The proposal came from NV Energy, Nevada’s largest investor-owned utility. The commission decided on the delay due to concerns about cost for Nevada ratepayers.
“To only allocate that (cost) to customers in Nevada is very difficult, especially as the benefits are spread more broadly,” comments Christina Hayes, vice president of federal regulatory affairs for Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Berkshire Hathaway Energy is the parent company of NV Energy.
The transmission “development that needs to happen” will “enable a lot more renewables to come online,” according to Sarah Steinberg, a policy principal with Advanced Energy Economy. She adds, “There are some pretty significant geographic constraints right now.”