Union of Concerned Scientists

From Minnesota to Louisiana, Renewables are Poised for Dramatic Growth, but…

Every so often I take a look at the interconnection queue of the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator (MISO) that shows the mix of new generation resources applying to connect to MISO’s transmission system that extends across much of the central U.S. MISO operates this extensive transmission network, maintaining reliable electricity supply and operating the region’s wholesale electricity markets. Last updated on January 31st, MISO’s interconnection queue summary shows how wind and solar resources are dominating interconnection applications and foreshadowing a historic transition to clean energy resources.

As of January 31st, there is 72,000 megawatts MW of new wind and solar resources in MISO’s interconnection queue, including more than 64,000 MW of new wind and solar projects. To put this in perspective, MISO’s summer peak is about 130,000 MW. Taking a bit of a closer look at the numbers, some exciting observations can be made.

MISO’s January 2019 summary of projects awaiting approval to interconnect to the system included more than 64,000 megawatts of wind and solar resources spread across the central U.S. Source: MISO

Utility-scale solar is everywhere!

Approximately:

  • 9,000 MW spread across Illinois, Indiana and eastern Missouri
  • 8,000 MW spread across Arkansas, Louisiana, western Mississippi, and a bit of eastern Texas
  • 4,000 MW in eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
  • 4,000 MW spread across Minnesota, Iowa, western Wisconsin and the Dakotas, and
  • 3,000 MW in Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Wind keeps going in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas

About 20,000 MW of wind is looking to interconnect across these wind-rich states, continuing the growth trajectory that we’ve seen over the past decade.

Battery storage is looking attractive to investors

There’s now almost 500 MW of battery storage projects in MISO’s interconnection queue – nearly all of it applying for interconnection in the past year. Battery storage has enormous potential to provide a wide range of benefits to the grid – and ultimately to consumers – and the opportunities for investment are projected to grow significantly over the coming years.

Now here’s the tough news.

Even under ideal circumstances, some of this renewable energy wouldn’t ultimately make it onto the grid as projects withdraw for a variety of financial or technical reasons. That’s normal as some projects in the queue are more speculative than others. But MISO’s current process for approving interconnection isn’t helping matters and needs significant reform to accommodate the shift to renewable energy. Current estimates of the time it takes MISO to conduct the required studies and ultimately approve interconnection is nearly 17 months. This adds a significant level of uncertainty and delay for project developers. As currently designed, the interconnection process is so backed up that renewable energy projects are dropping out because they won’t be able to meet project timelines that allow them to take advantage of expiring tax credits.

More tough news

The existing transmission system is already congested. This means new projects are having to foot the bill for costly system upgrades before they can connect. This is leading to more RE projects dropping out due to excessively costly network upgrade requirements. The harder pill to swallow in all of this is that these system upgrades often provide significant benefits beyond just allowing the project to connect. Benefits like avoiding other system upgrade costs, reduced wholesale electricity prices, or improved reliability and resilience are overlooked, meaning other stakeholders are free-riding off the investments made for interconnection and not paying their fair share of network upgrade costs.

The point

If we don’t fix these problems to (1) develop a timely interconnection process for ready-to-go projects and (2) conduct transmission planning, project approval, and cost-allocation that will accommodate the rapidly evolving generation fleet, it will severely constrain the ability for cost-effective renewable energy to come online. This will ultimately leave consumer benefits on the table – forcing them to pay more for a dirtier, less reliable electricity supply.

Public Domain

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