The United States' largest power grid operator sure doesn't understand the influence it wields

There are times that the U.S. energy grid can seem like a baffling thing, especially given the many layers between the entities that oversee a grid itself and the consumers using a grid’s power. In a recent E&E Energywire report, the outlet focused on the nation’s largest—and oldest—independent system operator (ISO), Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). Typically, ISOs and their smaller counterparts, known as regional transmission operators, aren’t thrust into the spotlight.

Much of that changed with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ deadly failures during winter storm Uri in 2021. Later that year, the Dallas Morning News published a watchdog report detailing the ISO’s numerous misdeeds throughout a 20-year time period. MISO has faced its own controversies in the past, but what caught E&E reporter Jeffrey Tomich’s eye was the company’s seemingly uncharacteristic pressuring of utilities commissions and regulators to keep gas flowing when ISOs are typically considered neutral. Those actions include sending a supportive letter pushing for a gas-powered plant it deemed “needed” to the Rural Utilities Commission and having an employee speak out about the need for gas power during a public briefing.

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During her presentation on behalf of MISO before the Missouri Public Service Commission, Vice President Melissa Seymour claimed the ISO is “going to need some type of gas asset in the footprint that we can rely on” in order to fill a potential gap led by coal-fired power facilities shuttering. Seymour has spoken before about grid reliability and has pushed for more interconnectedness of grids in order to meet that goal. Missing from those discussions are meaningful solutions to increase reliability through the use of renewables. It’s a myth that wind and solar can’t get us there, as Yale Environment 360 notes:

Based on this metric, Germany—where renewables supply nearly half of the country’s electricity—boasts a grid that is one of the most reliable in Europe and the world. In 2020, SAIDI was just 0.25 hours in Germany. Only Liechtenstein (0.08 hours), and Finland and Switzerland (0.2 hours), did better in Europe, where 2020 electricity generation was 38 percent renewable (ahead of the world’s 29 percent).

Prior MISO research indicates that on top existing power generation, its entire system will need 230 GW to account for an overall shortfall. MISO believes Missouri may be the zone most impacted by shortfalls. While allowing gas to cover the gap created by shuttering coal plants harms the environment, it’s still a much better option than keeping those plants open—which may end up happening due to a law signed by Gov. Mike Parson in June that could allow energy companies to continue operating coal-fired plants with the justification being that those plants help with grid reliability.

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Tuesday, Sep 6, 2022 · 9:42:39 PM +00:00

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April Siese

Andrew Linhares, the Regional Director & Senior Counsel for Renew Missouri, got back to me with some insights on MISO’s claims that the ISO can’t do its job without a mixture of gas and renewables. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that MISO is overlooking utility-scale battery storage.

“Specifically, battery storage paired with new solar and wind generation,” Linhares said. “These technologies are still emergent, but like solar, the price point is going down predictably. In the near-term future, it’ll be economical to build out utility-scale storage for capacity purposes and pair with new solar resources that coincide with the hottest and highest-peak times of the year. I think utilities should be asked about their studies on battery storage at every opportunity, and where they haven’t studied it enough they should be asked why not.”

MISO most certainly doesn’t have all the answers but holding any ISO accountable and expecting them to do the work, especially as these groups look towards it future plans, is critical in mapping out a fully renewable future. 

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