The head of the Arizona Corporate Commission worries that California power officials moving their wattage to the front of the line would export power outages to Arizona and elsewhere.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently decided to allow the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) to prioritize energy flow throughout California over Arizona. This concerns to the chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), Lea Márquez Peterson.
CAISO petitioned FERC to make changes to its tariff related to transmission priority through California in response to the extensive blackouts in August 2020. The summer readiness plan approved by California’s primary grid operator deprioritized the electrical wattage sent outside the golden state when the power demand is high.
In reaction, the ACC and public utility commissions and electric utilities in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon filed protests with FERC, saying that CAISO is an “independent” entity and should be held accountable in an “open” and “fair” wholesale market.
Southwest utilities such as Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Service accused CAISO of “exporting its reliability issues which are the result of dynamics within the CAISO BAA to the rest of the West.”
This summer, when California utilities are short on power, due to the tariff changes, Márquez Peterson said CAISO could cancel contracts and block energy at the border, allowing CAISO to repurchase power intended for Arizona for itself. She fears this will force Arizona’s utilities to struggle to make up for power they had already paid for and rely on. The tariff change, she said, benefits Californians at the expense of the health and wellbeing of Arizonans.
“During rotating blackouts, small areas across the utilities’ territory would experience short power outages of 1-2 hours. While most households and businesses would continue to be served, affected areas would be rotated until the need for forced outages has ended,” she said.
FERC agreed with CAISO’s responses to the protests against the tariff changes and did not alter their stance, holding that the tariff was not discriminatory, was consistent with open access principles, and effectively balanced competing interests.
“Despite overwhelming opposition from other states in the West, FERC sided with California and granted the change which will allow California to stop energy from flowing to Arizona, which could mean power shortages for Arizonans,” Márquez Peterson said.
According to CAISO, the initiative “refine[d] the prioritization of energy imports, exports, and transfers through the ISO’s balancing authority area,” so that the energy provider could more effectively manage electricity shortages and avoid more blackouts.
The state saw supply-caused rolling blackouts in Aug. 2020 that saw hundreds of thousands of residents without power in the triple-digit heat.
“This decision is problematic for many Western states, including Arizona,” Márquez Peterson said. “Our electric utilities did the right thing and planned ahead, securing pre-negotiated contracts with utilities in the Pacific Northwest to ensure that critical hydropower would be available to Arizonans when it would be needed the most which would be delivered across transmission line through the state of California.”
She recommended that Arizonans make a backup plan in case of power shortages and said that she questions Arizona’s involvement in the regional energy market.
“While I sympathize with those in California who experienced rolling blackouts last year, I stand firm with Arizonans first and believe that California’s manipulation of the market is unfair and unjust to Arizonans and other states in the West.”
– – –