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Study: Cal-ISO, PacifiCorp Electric Transmission Grid Merger Saves Money

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The control room in Folsom, California for the state's power grid manager, the California Independent System Operator. The room includes an 80-foot wide system of monitors.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

A new study shows combining the two largest electric transmission grids in the Western U.S. could reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) is based in Folsom. PacifiCorp operates in six western states, including California. PacifiCorp operates as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and California, and as Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. 

Steven Greenlee with Cal-ISO says the study is another step toward integrating the two largest high-voltage transmission grids in the Western U.S. He says the study shows it works for both organizations. 

"By being able to cut costs for PacifiCorp and then, for the ISO, it's better optimization and better use of a wider and diverse set of resources from across the west," says Greenlee. 

Greenlee says tapping those resources means Cal-ISO would be able to move energy around the entire region as part of its wholesale power market. 

If the two grid operations were combined, Cal-ISO would operate the new regional grid.

He says the study moves that possibility forward by showing that PacifiCorp, a for-profit company, would save on costs.

"This study at least is one part of what they need in order to make a business decision and decide to actually continue to move all the way through integration with the ISO grid," says Greenlee.

Sierra Club Calls PacifiCorp 'Poor Partner' For California

 

The study says combining the systems into a regional grid would save customers money over the long run. 

Greenlee says the study also shows a regional ISO would likely reduce greenhouse gas emissions through coordinated planning and lower overall costs to build new renewable resources.

Greenlee says there is "still work to do" but pending regulatory approval, it's possible Cal-ISO could be operating a regional grid in 2018 or 2019.

The Sierra Club in California says there are "potential benefits to diversifying renewable energy generation across the region," from integrating the two transmission grids. But the organization has raised concerns that "PacifiCorp is a poor partner for California because it operates one of the most carbon-intensive electric grids in the region."

"California needs strong partners to help meet its clean energy goals, but unfortunately PacifiCorp has shown time and again that it is more interested in trying to block new clean energy projects and prop up its existing coal plants," says Bill Corcoran, western regional campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.