Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An Electric 'Game Changer' Gets FERC Scrutiny

A proposal to move large amounts of wind and solar power out of the Southwest by linking the three separate North American electricity grids with state-of-the-art switching terminals and superconducting cables is now in hands of federal regulators.

Tres Amigas LLC has petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for two key rulings ...

...The three terminals would receive alternating-current power from transmission companies in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, and convert it to direct-current flows using solid-state voltage source converters. The direct current would move between the three terminals to carry out any of six possible transactions: Power could flow into or out of Texas, for instance by way of the two interconnections, or it could move between the interconnections directly.

The use of direct current and voltage converters will overcome the current barrier to power transfers between Texas and the interconnections, each of which is operating out of sync electrically with the other, a condition that would destroy equipment if an alternating-current connection were made today....

...Harris said in an interview that he purposely did not seek Energy Department stimulus grants for the new technology and proclaimed confidence that the project can be privately financed through debt and equity investments....

Transmission providers can use the Tres Amigas connection to buy the cheaper power in one grid for sale in a higher-priced region, and Tres Amigas will profit by moving the energy, the firm's FERC filing says.

FERC's approval of Tres Amigas' flexible pricing proposal is essential, says Raskin. "To maximize the value of this facility, we need to have a combination of long-term and short-term pricing authority. We are pushing FERC's precedents."...

The Tres Amigas petition to FERC says that because energy is converted from an AC wave to a DC electronic pulse and then back into an AC wave synchronized with the receiving grid, the electrons in Texas are not "free flowing" into New Mexico or Oklahoma, preserving Texas' separation....

The Tres Amigas project stands to make an interesting and vital contribution to the state of renewable electricity production in the U.S. (see Tres Amigas Project in New Mexico promises more renewable energy through better electrical grid connectivity for more information) The south-west and especially west-texas regions have a lot of solar and wind power. The texas panhandle region has an especially strong wind resource. Further the regions are lightly populated. This makes them attractive for building wind and solar power installations but the problem is how to get power produced in those facilities to the market.

It turns out the U.S. electric market has three power regions. They are the Eastern Interconnection east of the Rocky Mountains, the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) west of the Rockies, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Further the Texas statewide grid that Texas is a jurisdictional thing maintained by Texas to prevent federal regulation of its utility industry. This is a remnant of Texas's past as an independent nation which chose on its own to join the United States.

The Tres Amigas project creates an interchange between the three regions so that power can be sold between the regions. Hence electric production facilities can be built in, for example, the Texas Panhandle area and then sell power to the rest of the country. If there were no power sale agreement or interconnect then a producer in the Texas Panhandle could produce all the electricity they want but could only sell it to Texas.

As explained in the linked NY Times article the project has to jump through a few hoops to retain Texas' status as having its own electric power grid that isn't subject to federal regulation. It converts the alternating current electricity used on the grid into direct current electricity for exchange in the Tres Amigas interconnect facility. By doing the AC-DC-AC conversion they avoid a "direct flow" of electricity keeping FERC's grubby hands off Texas' electricity.

Sigh.

from Ephermeral Technosanity Ruminations


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