Solar, Wind

Renewable Hungry Companies need to get on the RTO ASAP

The biggest companies in America want renewable energy to fuel their growth and they’re willing to pay long-term to get it.

Through August large U.S. firms have already procured nearly four GW of utility-scale wind and solar capacity, breaking a three-year-old record by 750 MW.

And yet it’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to get the renewable power from where it’s generated to the demand centers wanting to use it the most. A new report by the Wind Solar Alliance highlights those challenges and what’s needed to bridge that transmission gap.

“Companies buying affordable clean energy today are benefitting from yesterday’s transmission plans, said John Kostyack, Executive Director of the Wind Solar Alliance, which produced the new report. “To meet their sustainability targets for the next decade, and to make low-cost renewable power accessible for themselves and other customers, they need to join efforts to jump-start a new era of transmission planning.”

Companies which have set goals for offsetting 100 percent of their energy use with renewable power include corporate powerhouses from diverse sectors such as Alphabet, GM, Microsoft, P&G, Johnson&Johnson and many others.

The report, Corporate Renewable Procurement and Transmission Planning: Communicating Demand to RTOs May Yield More Low-cost Options, points out that more than 100 U.S. corporate buyers —members of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance — have set a goal of purchasing 60 GW of new U.S. renewable energy capacity by 2025. So far, since 2013, the companies have procured just over 13 gigawatts of renewable power.

Traditionally, electric transmission planning has focused on demand growth within a region, delivering power from a plant to customers within the service territory. Corporate purchasers and renewable consumers from major demand centers such as closer to the east and west coasts, however, want an expanded access to wind and solar capacity higher in more isolated areas.

The report outlines actions major buyers of renewable energy can take to make sure renewable power is accessible when they need it. One option is for companies to follow Walmart’s lead and join regional transmission organizations (RTOs). The world’s largest retailer, which is working toward a goal of 100 percent clean energy, joined the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) Regional Transmission Organization in August.

Other major renewable energy users might choose to collaborate with transmission planners in other ways, such as paying a utility a “green tariff,” or working together to develop a needed transmission line. A third option is for companies to work together through trade and advocacy organizations to help planners shape the grid.

“Incorporating corporate renewable energy demand into transmission planning will become increasingly important as more companies act on their goals,” said Hannah Hunt, Deputy Director for Electricity Policy and Demand at the American Wind Energy Association. “Engaging large buyers of renewable energy with transmission planners will be an efficient way to ensure they get the information they need to plan for the future.”

The newly rebranded Wind Solar Alliance (WSA) is releasing Corporate Renewable Procurement and Transmission Planning at the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) Summit in Oakland, California on Monday.

The report builds on an earlier report that WSA — then known as the Wind Energy Foundation — produced with David Gardiner and Associates (DGA) earlier this year, which exposed the scope of the problem. It found that while corporate demand for renewable energy is growing fast — in part because of record low rates that reflect plummeting costs for wind and solar technology — transmission planning processes are not accounting for corporations’ large and growing demand for renewable power. That could result in a lack of new infrastructure to supply that demand.

“Transmission expansion is already falling short of what is needed to meet future corporate demand for wind and solar,” said David Gardiner, President of DGA and co-author of the earlier report. “Large corporate buyers want access to the least expensive wind and solar resources, most of which are located between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, far from most business operations. We need to step up our efforts to build transmission to deliver cheap, clean wind and solar power to America’s factories, data centers, and stores.”

The new report offers an update on the problem, and proposes solutions, including inter-regional planning that spans RTOs.