December 2, 2019
The electrical grid that serves most Minnesotans’ homes was built in the early 1900’s. It was constructed when renewable energy technologies were just a wisp of a dream. But our rapidly changing energy transformation has changed a whole lot more than just how we power our homes and businesses. It’s going to take a transformation in how we plan for the systems that distribute that power.
We know that new technologies are emerging. Customer needs and desires are evolving. Public policies want to ensure a secure, clean, and affordable grid of the future. How do we do all of this? Spoiler alert: we need a plan!
Electric utilities are responsible for maintaining their grids and planning for future customer needs. Regulatory authorities, such as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), create proceedings that open planning to stakeholders.
In this blog, we’ll attempt to look at what planning means, what we’re planning for, what planning processes matter, and how our clean energy businesses can help. Fair warning – there will be acronyms!
Purpose: What are we planning for?
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra, former New York Yankees catcher
Any plan requires an objective. In the case of Minnesota’s grid, the Public Utilities Commission helps set objectives. In recent years, the PUC worked to define what a modern grid should do:
“A modernized grid assures continued safe, reliable, and resilient utility network operations, and enables Minnesota to meet its energy policy goals, including the integration of variable renewable electricity sources and distributed energy resources. An integrated, modern grid provides for greater system efficiency and greater utilization of grid assets, enables the development of new products and services, provides customers with necessary information and tools to enable their energy choices, and supports a standards-based and interoperable utility network.” (see 2016 PUC Staff Report on Grid Modernization)
That’s a mouthful, and a lot to plan towards. Which begs the question… how do we do that?
Process: How does Minnesota plan for the future grid?
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”― Abraham Lincoln
The PUC is embarking on a new process with energy utilities. Each utility is now required to put together an integrated distribution plan (IDP). The idea behind the IDP is to answer three questions:
- Are we planning for and investing in the distribution system that we will need in the future?
- Are the planning processes aligned to ensure future reliability, efficient use of resources, maximize customer benefits and successful implementation of public policy?
- What commission actions would support improved alignment of planning for and investment in the distribution system?
The PUC recognizes that utilities’ grids are different, and plans may vary as those grids modernize. With that recognition, the PUC requires each utility to file specific information. This information allows the PUC and stakeholders to weigh in on plans and help improve utility thinking. With aging infrastructure, rapid technological advances and costs, customer needs, and public policies, there’s a lot to discuss. Topics include system designs, customer-facing options, where and how energy resources can connect to the grid, and how much it may cost.
Opportunity: Where does the business voice of clean energy fit?
“There has to be more that we can do, a better destiny that we can shape. Another place. Another way. Something!” – Lauren, in Octavia Butler’s Dreams, Hopes, and Plans
The business voice of clean energy is important in the discussion. Clean Energy Economy MN’s membership includes companies making Minnesota’s energy system more clean, affordable, and secure. Further, our companies work alongside utility partners, bringing unique perspective on the business challenges and opportunities the industry faces in helping modernize the grid to meet those challenges.
And getting involved is easier than one might think. For example, each utility is also required to hold a stakeholder workshop prior to filing the IDP. Benjamin, CEEM’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs attended workshops to help voice industry concerns as utilities consider their plans. CEEM also filed comments on Xcel’s 2018 filing and participated in discussions at the PUC on how stakeholders can learn together to improve future IDP processes. Read our comments here. CEEM plans to file stakeholder comments in IDPs in January. Case information can be found here:
- 19-674 Dakota Electric Association (comments due 1/29/2020)
- 19-693 Otter Tail Power Company (comments due 1/22/2020)
- 19-666 Xcel Energy (comment period temporarily suspended)
- 19-684 Minnesota Power (comments due 1/15/2020)
In a nutshell:
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but not plans.” Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator and author
The IDP process is a great example of discussing Minnesota’s energy future. These discussions are critical and a great opportunity to represent the experience and capabilities of the clean energy economy. For more information, reach out to Benjamin firstname.lastname@example.org.