The Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative (EIPC) last week said that while it has completed a transmission analysis as part of an electric system transmission planning effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the government agency has now asked the working group to look into whether domestic natural gas infrastructure is up to the challenges posed by increased gas-fired power generation.

“The EIPC has reached a major milestone with the completion of the electric system transmission analyses of the stakeholder-defined scenarios for the year 2030,” said Stephen G. Whitley, CEO of the New York Independent System Operator and chair of the EIPC executive committee. The EIPC consists of more than two dozen electric system planning authorities from 39 states in the eastern United States and two provinces in eastern Canada, and is focused on a “bottom-up” approach, starting with a roll-up of the existing grid expansion plans of electric system planning authorities in the Eastern Interconnection.

Stakeholders had defined three scenarios as part of the first phase of the EIPC’s studies. As a result of the scenario analyses conducted as a part of the second phase, three future transmission systems were created to support the chosen scenarios from a reliability perspective. In addition, the capital costs to install the future resources assumed in each scenario and the cost to install the supporting transmission facilities were calculated, along with the projected annual production costs.

The first scenario is “business as usual,” representing a continuation of existing conditions, including load growth, existing Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and proposed environmental regulations as they were understood in the summer of 2011. Second is a national RPS for state/regional implementation that contemplates meeting 30% of U.S. electricity requirements from renewable resources by 2030. This would be achieved by utilizing a regional implementation strategy.

In the third scenario, a combined federal climate and energy policy envisions a reduction in economy-wide carbon emissions by 42% from 2005 levels in 2030 and 80% in 2050; meeting 30% of the nation’s electricity requirements from renewable resources by 2030; and deploying significant energy efficiency measures, demand response, distributed generation, smart grid and other low-carbon technologies. This scenario would be achieved by utilizing a nationwide/eastern interconnection-wide implementation strategy.

With coal increasingly falling out of favor due to emissions concerns, many utilities and power plant operators are turning toward natural gas as a fuel source. However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, independent system operators, regional transmission organizations, market participants and several state regulatory commissions have raised concerns regarding the future ability of natural gas infrastructure to meet the coincidental requirements of gas utilities and generators under various conditions, especially during the winter heating season.

“DOE has requested that we continue the project to investigate if sufficient natural gas infrastructure exists to support the growing use of natural gas for power production as well as the associated impacts on electric transmission planning,” Whitley said. He said the effort to analyze the interface between the gas delivery system and the electric transmission system has just begun and supplements the ongoing work of the EIPC.

EIPC will be continuing its Eastern Interconnection-wide transmission planning activities in 2013 beginning with a comprehensive update of its Eastern Interconnection power flow model for the years 2018 and 2023 based upon the regional plans of its members. The gas study contemplates investigating the increasing reliance on natural gas for generating electricity, the working group said, noting that the expanding role of gas in the nation’s power generation was demonstrated in the capacity expansion analyses and production cost studies completed in 2011 and 2012. The gas study will focus on areas of particular concern, including the Northeast and Midwest regions of the eastern interconnection.

The EIPC project team included EIPC members, stakeholder facilitators from The Keystone Center and technical experts from Charles River Associates. The draft report from the second phase of the project is posted on the EIPC website.

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