Last week, we hosted a webinar with our partner La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), an electric cooperative that serves 49,000 members across southwest Colorado. As a utility with a winter evening peak, LPEA is compelled to strategically evaluate how to cost-effectively ensure sufficient capacity, an issue becoming increasingly challenging for electric providers across the country.
Inspired in part by the 2,500 member-owned solar arrays in its service territory, LPEA has been working to leverage local resources for flexible, dispatchable capacity. In the webinar, LPEA Executive Vice President of Grid Solutions Dan Harms and Energy Resource Programs Architect Dominic May shared how their team is addressing capacity constraints with local resources. Here are four takeaways for other co-ops and G&Ts facing similar challenges:
As climate change produces increasingly frequent extreme weather events and patterns, historically dependable generation resources are becoming insufficient to manage a reliable grid.
“Capacity constraints, resource adequacy: These are terms that we weren't using in our everyday language five years ago,” commented Dan. “Now, they’re topics we talk about frequently. We're seeing the retirement of dispatchable thermal resources and drought impacting our hydro resources, especially in the western United States. There are studies showing glowing red areas in the West with a dwindling margin of power supply on the worst case days. So, capacity is definitely top of mind for us.”
However, simply increasing capacity through new large-scale generation can be challenging and expensive. “Every year we're finding it more difficult to install transmission lines and substations,” said Dan. “It takes longer. Nobody wants it in their backyard. And it’s not just the time, but also the cost to construct. We have projects that will cost millions of dollars.”
He added: “We’re stepping back and asking, ‘Can we take this money and create the same amount of capacity with a local non-wires alternative?’”
For Dominic, the answer to Dan’s question is yes. What’s more, he believes that local dispatchable resources are key to operating LPEA’s grid into the future.
“Right now a lot of what we're focused on is the integration of grid edge, demand response-capable devices,” he said. “We’re refocusing all of our programs – anything we're going to spend staff time and money on – to have some control component.”
Fortunately, LPEA sees a growing opportunity for these kinds of programs as more distributed energy resources are connected to its grid.
“Our members are buying water heaters, electric vehicles, smart thermostats, and even batteries,” said Dan. “But they aren’t purchasing them to make the grid run more efficiently. They’re buying for their own reasons. However, we see those as assets that can be used to make the grid run more efficiently while creating a better payback for the member. We definitely believe that we can create a win-win where we provide an incentive for the customer to allow us to manage some of the devices they already have. And with the IRA next year, we’re guessing the adoption rate is going to accelerate at least two to threefold from what we’ve seen in recent years.”
In order to call upon a wide array of member-owned resources, grid operators first need to be able to identify grid needs and bring together the different controllable resources. Camus’ software platform provides a single interface where LPEA can monitor, schedule, and control all of its dispatchable resources.
“We already have countless data sources, including our GIS, OMS, AMI, CIS. And then we pull in data from all of the different vendors as well as our forecasting and other information,” explained Dominic. “We use Camus as our point of truth to control these devices. And we’re migrating our intelligence into Camus as well so that we don't have to go out to Survalent or Tantalus, our AMI, to get information. We can centralize it and access it directly through Camus.”
Looking to the future, enthusiasm is growing around the role of local resources as capacity assets. We polled our live webinar audience to get their take. Out of 40 representatives from more than 15 different utilities, 80% of respondents estimated that at least 10% of their power supply will come from member-owned resources in the near future.
LPEA not only anticipates increased member-owned resource capacity in the future, it has incorporated member-owned goals into its resource planning. According to Dan, “We have a 150 megawatt system peak, and our goal is to have 5-10 megawatts of controllable assets: 5 megawatts by 2025 and 10 megawatts by 2030.”
As co-ops increasingly rely on distributed resources to address grid reliability and resource adequacy, monitoring and control of grid-connected devices will also become more complex. In order to scale programs efficiently and reliably, co-ops can maximize success through close coordination and communication with their G&Ts.
As Dominic put it: “All co-ops across our state and in many places in the country have to figure out a collaborative relationships with the G&Ts – in our case, Tri-State – that establishes ways to get the value stack all the way from the market down through [the distribution co-op] and to the prosumer-consumer, our members, at the end. That's going to require technical integration where G&Ts can signal or control DERMS with their co-ops.”
He added, “We're hoping to collaborate and work with Tri-State to develop that and establish a scalable and replicable model for co-ops of any size to collaborate with their G&Ts.”
If you’re interested in hearing more from LPEA, you can view the full webinar here.
Want to learn more? See how another Colorado co-op, Holy Cross Energy, is leveraging member resources in this case study. And if you’re still wondering what exactly Camus’ software does, check out our blog.