At midnight on October 1, Western Area Power Administration’s Upper Great Plains Region, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, and Heartland Consumers Power District – the owners of the Integrated System (IS) – successfully transferred functional control to the Southwest Power Pool and began operating as part of that regional transmission organization (RTO).
This was the final step in achieving full membership in the RTO. Southwest Power Pool and its member companies coordinate the flow of electricity across 56,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines spanning 14 states. The Integrated System (IS) is the backbone of the high-voltage transmission grid in the upper Great Plains region of eastern Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Until now, Western had operated the IS on behalf of the three owners. The agency is one of four power marketing administrations within the U.S. Department of Energy tasked with marketing and transmitting wholesale electricity.
“This major achievement demonstrates Western’s commitment to evolve our services in a changing energy frontier so we can continue to reliably, economically, and securely serve our customers,” said Western Administrator and CEO Mark Gabriel.
With the inclusion of the IS, SPP’s footprint now spans about 575,000 square miles in all or parts of 14 states in the central United States. The IS will add about 5,000 megawatts (MW) of peak demand and 7,600 MW of generating capacity – including a threefold increase in SPP’s current hydroelectric capacity.
Western also represents the first federal power marketing administration to become a full RTO member. “The successful integration of the IS is a significant milestone for SPP as we prepare to celebrate our 75th anniversary in 2016,” said SPP CEO Nick Brown. “The IS further diversifies our membership with the addition of a federal agency and creates a more robust transmission network to meet the electrical demand across the region and efficiently operate a wholesale energy market.”
The decision to integrate into SPP meant the IS would need to develop systems and tools to successfully operate in an RTO environment. “I have to give a lot of credit to our employees, who have been dedicated and tenacious in preparing the cooperative for this transition,” said Basin Electric CEO Paul Sukut. “It’s a significant shift in how we have historically operated, and though our decades-old partnership with Western is changing, we have plans to continue working with them in a number of ways. Today, we have taken a step to evolve our operations and partnerships, but one thing will never change. Our primary focus has and always will be serving our members.
“Heartland has been preparing for this transition for some time, and we are glad to finally see the process complete,” said Heartland CEO Russell Olson. “This is a necessary step in ensuring we are providing the best possible service to our customers. We will have greater flexibility and increased options for buying and selling power and look forward to the opportunities operating within SPP will provide.”
The integration is the culmination of years of discussions and public involvement between the IS members, SPP, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and customers. The IS owners have studied several forms of potential regional transmission organization participation since the 1990s.
Beginning in 2001, the IS participants began to evaluate potential options of joining SPP, joining the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO Energy) – or continuing operations on a stand-alone basis. These studies identified the option to join SPP as having the most benefit and the least risk.
A public process began in November 2013 to hear comments from concerned parties, which resulted in approval to pursue membership in January 2014.