The Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, Oregon, U.S., Friday asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a declaratory judgment on key provisions of Grid West, one of two competing efforts under way to improve the management and operation of the U.S. Northwest's transmission grid.

BPA and the utilities asked for a stipulation that Grid West need not be a regional transmission organization (RTO) under FERC Order 2000. As proposed, Grid West would be filed under FERC Order 888 - the order directing utilities owning transmission to provide open, non-discriminatory transmission access within their service areas.

"Years of discussion and little action on the best way to proceed have left the Northwest's transmission system increasingly stressed and in need of more coordinated management," said Steve Wright, BPA administrator. "We have been pursuing Grid West as one approach to improving the reliability and efficiency of the system. The other is the Transmission Improvement Group (TIG)."

Allen Burns, BPA's executive vice president for Industry Restructuring, said Northwest publicly owned utilities are concerned about bringing the region's grid under FERC jurisdiction. They fear that FERC would be unresponsive to regional needs and would impose costly and harmful measures on them.

"But FERC has shown an increasing appreciation for the unique needs and characteristics of the Northwest power system," Burns said. "Grid West would preserve many existing contractual arrangements, minimize cost shifts and preserve BPA's nonjurisdictional status. We're now asking FERC to tell us whether it will accept key features of Grid West."

Meanwhile, BPA is also participating in TIG, a similar and parallel effort designed specifically to meet the desired objectives without forming a new, FERC-regulated entity. The TIG is working to complete its proposal by Aug. 1. It seeks to avoid FERC jurisdiction by arranging cooperative agreements among existing transmission owners. These agreements would address the reliability and efficiency of the grid, coordinate operations, provide market monitoring and facilitate expansion of infrastructure.

A decision on which approach is best comes in September when the seating of an independent Grid West developmental board is scheduled. The independent board would oversee the further development of the Grid West proposal. It would ultimately offer agreements to the utilities to provide transmission services using the utilities' facilities and oversee planning and expansion for the seven-state regional grid.

Among issues on which the Grid West petitioners seek clarity from FERC are:

  • Grid West will not be required to meet all of the requirements for a regional transmission organization as defined in FERC orders.
  • Grid West's governance structure and bylaws will meet FERC independence requirements.
  • Nothing would prevent BPA from withdrawing from Grid West if its policies violated BPA's statutory requirements, and BPA would not become regulated by FERC.
  • Grid West would not be required to adopt Standard Market Design features, some of which do not fit the unique contractual and operating circumstances of the region.
  • Nothing would prevent the preservation of existing contracts.
Work is also continuing to complete a cost estimate for the Grid West operations and a preliminary assessment of the benefits, which will also be a key factor to consider.

Idaho Power Company and PacifiCorp, neither involved with TIG but participating in Grid West development, joined BPA in the petition to FERC.