The Public Interest Jurisdictionally and Extra-Jurisdictionally: Toward Effective and Empowered Collaborative Institutions for Multistate Decisions on Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation

National Renewable Energy Laboratory Law Conference

August 11, 2009

By Malcolm McLellan and Lou Ann Westerfield

The Western Interconnection is one of three electric power grids operating in the United States.  It includes sixty eight electrically interconnected electric power systems which operate together to maintain the stability and reliability of electric service in the west.  In the past, the electric power industry in the west has been reluctant to invest in new transmission infrastructure due to protracted regulatory uncertainties.  Without such investment, the interconnection will become increasingly less capable of employing sufficient resources, including wind energy, to bring electric power to the areas of the west experiencing load growth.  Previous studies of this problem have found that making greater use of our generating resources “can lower power costs to consumers and reduce the volatility of electricity prices.”

The physical reality in the western United States is that long transmission lines linking generating resources with load centers create inherent stability and reliability problems.  As a result, the Western Interconnection has a history of voluntary cooperation in addressing reliability issues.  The Western Electricity Coordinating Council (“WECC”) is, in fact, the only interconnection-wide transmission planning and reliability organization in the United States.  Its mission is to maintain a reliable electric power system in the Western Interconnection that supports efficient competitive power markets and to assure open and non-discriminatory transmission access among members.  WECC may resolve transmission access disputes between members on a voluntary basis consistent with the policies of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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This article was publicly presented at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Law Conference on August 11, 2009 in Denver Colorado.