Solar power industry to FERC: Let us compete in backup market for midwest grid

Solar panels are seen at a small solar farm in Linyola
REUTERS/Albert Gea
  • Midwest grid operator MISO banned renewables from backup market in 2010
  • Solar power industry says decision based on now-outdated data

(Reuters) - A rule banning wind and solar energy producers from participating in power markets that provide critical support for the electricity grid for much of the Midwest is outdated and based on “stale” information, the solar industry has told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) on Tuesday filed a complaint with FERC against the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), arguing the grid operator is discriminating against renewable energy sources by keeping them from participating in markets that help maintain grid reliability and bring systems back from power outages. By keeping renewables from those markets, the industry said the grid operator is giving a competitive advantage to traditional energy sources like fossil fuels.

“For the last decade, the MISO has been discriminating against renewable generators, and it’s time that FERC corrects the record and gives renewables a fair shot,” said Melissa Alfano, director of energy markets and counsel at SEIA.

MISO’s ancillary markets have run since 2009. The grid operator submitted a plan to FERC, which regulates transmission and wholesale electricity markets in the country, for how it would run those markets the following year. That plan excluded the use of intermittent resources such as wind and solar, according to the SEIA’s complaint.

But MISO “never intended for the prohibition to be permanent,” SEIA said, noting that the operator had cited its own lack of experience with emerging intermittent resources like wind and solar as a reason for the restrictions. The complaint said MISO later extended the prohibition based purely on an economic analysis of just six months' worth of data, which SEIA said “is now stale.”

More than 10 years later, the solar energy industry said it has proven itself and noted that the reliability of renewables is bolstered by battery storage that keeps supply available even when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing for a time. It’s time for the operator to accept renewables on ancillary markets that run to fill in unexpected gaps in electricity supply, SEIA said.

FERC declined to comment. MISO didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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