Ohio’s Power Vision: Consumer-Centric Grid Improvements, Without the Mandates

A growing number of states have embarked on sweeping grid
reforms, each with its own local flavor.

California pushed beefy subsidies to launch rooftop solar and
now distributed energy storage. New York has toiled for more than
four years to perfect a market-based transition to utilities as
distribution service platforms. Massachusetts is throwing money at
solar and storage while chasing big offshore wind and Canadian
hydro.

Ohio published its own
grid reform roadmap
, dubbed PowerForward, in August, and it
doesn’t even mention the word “clean,” said Asim Haque, chair
of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), in a talk at the
Verge conference in Oakland last week.

A big reason for that is that Ohio has bifurcated power
generation from power delivery, taking the PUCO out of the
generation business. PowerForward, then, is not a roadmap for the
future of Ohio’s currently coal-heavy electricity mix.

PowerForward instead addresses the distribution grid in a manner
befitting the political battleground state, which has picked
presidents of both major parties, but strongly favors Republicans
in its state elections, Haque noted.

The plan envisions a more robust, interconnected grid,
incorporating smart meters, energy data accessibility, electric
vehicle charging infrastructure and non-wires alternatives, which
use distributed energy resources to offset expensive wires
upgrades.

But don’t expect to find a mandate for a certain number of
solar rooftops or electric cars on the road, á la California.

“No flashy goals and then figuring out how to work
backwards,” Haque said in an interview after his talk. “We are
going to artfully deploy the right infrastructure and create an
innovative marketplace that will allow for innovation to reach
customers, and it will eventually result in customers having way
more control over power delivery than they’ve ever had.”

The first steps will deal with hard infrastructure, like
expanding smart meter deployment beyond the small fraction of
customers who currently have them. PowerForward also recognizes the
coming wave of electric vehicles, and lays out principles for how
utilities can approach the related infrastructure investments.

The PUC doesn’t like regulated utilities charging all
ratepayers for chargers installed in private residences; grid
improvements to deliver the power for EV charging, though, are fair
game for cost recovery. So are chargers designed for public use,
like on highway corridors.

“We’re not trying to shove any particular product or service
down anybody’s throats in the state of Ohio,” Haque said.
“We’re trying to create the type of marketplace that allows for
innovation to organically arise and be delivered to customers if
customers choose it.”

That means, if someone wants to go full clean energy, they
should be able to get solar panels on their roof, batteries and EV
charger in their garage, and time-of-use rates to match, Haque
said. If they want nothing more than reliable energy at low cost,
they should be able to get that too.

That’s an ambitious vision for a state that has just dipped
its toes in the grid edge innovations sweeping other states.

The rooftop solar market there benefits from net energy
metering, but has stayed small. Ohio deployed solar on 158 roofs in
the second quarter of 2018, a rare quarter in which the state added
more than 1 megawatt of residential capacity, according to Wood
Mackenzie Power & Renewables data.

The state has executed two non-wires alternatives already, both
of which use battery storage to defer transmission and distribution
upgrades while stacking other value streams. One of those was
S&C Electric’s
solar-storage microgrid
for the Village of Minster’s public
utility.

PowerForward would encourage distribution utilities to pursue
similar projects in front of the meter where they cost effectively
offset expensive infrastructure investments. To make that work,
Ohio will need to streamline regulatory decisionmaking, Haque
noted, so utilities contemplating an NWA can get an answer in more
like 90 days, rather than a year or more.

“We feel convinced that this should be a part of the future, and
if it is, then we need to have the right regulatory mechanism in
place,” he said.

Behind-the-meter NWAs will remain the province of competitive
third-party providers. If market-based deployments create
inequities by ignoring certain populations, there might be a role
for utilities to step in, Haque added.

If successful, PowerForward would prepare the physical grid to
become a “platform” for energy services, which could include
third-party aggregators.

Measuring the success of the “consumers decide what they
want” principle could be tricky, though.

As a general rule, the public at large knows far less about
cutting-edge grid innovations than the policy wonks and technicians
supporting their development. For consumers to get what they want
out of electrical distribution, they need to know what their
options are.

Removing regulatory and infrastructural barriers creates a space
where consumers can exercise more agency. Then it will fall to
industry and policy groups to guide them through the rapidly
proliferating menagerie of energy options.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Ohio’s Power Vision: Consumer-Centric Grid Improvements, Without the Mandates