What Ohio’s New PowerForward Collaborative will Tackle

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The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio advanced its grid modernization planning last week by creating a PowerForward Collaborative.

PowerForward

By Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock.com

Led by commission staff and comprised of utility stakeholders, the collaborative will hold its first meeting December 6 (Cases 18-1595-EL-GRD18-1596-EL-GRD18-1597-EL-GRD).

The collaborative is charged with advancing a PowerForward roadmap the commission issued August 29. The state hopes to create a secure, open-access platform that will give utility customers more control over how they consume electricity and enable them to adopt new technologies.

What the PowerForward collaborative will tackle

The roadmap identified some initial topics for the collaborative to pursue related to electric vehicles, including their impact on the distribution system, rate designs to incentivize charging during off-peak periods, and the development of a marketplace for charging stations.

The collaborative also will work on creating:

  • A process for non-wire alternatives to be submitted to the commission and approved without unnecessary delays
  • A protocol for data privacy protections and a way to make available real-time or near real-time data
  • A methodology for third parties to obtain customer energy usage data

The PowerForward Collaborative includes two subgroups: the Distribution System Planning Working Group (PWG) and the Data and Modern Grid Workgroup (DWG). The collaborative, the PWG and the DWG are designed to continue discussions that took place over 18 months and led to the roadmap. The working groups will address specific tasks laid out in the roadmap and make recommendations to the commission.

The collaborative “is the next step in building our state’s electricity future,” Asim Haque, commission chairman, said in a statement. “It’s an opportunity for stakeholders to be directly involved in helping create Ohio’s grid modernization policies for the future.”

Haque has said he does not favor imposing targets and working backwards to achieve them. Instead, he advocates for first building the enabling infrastructure such as more widespread smart meters and more open access to energy user data.

Ohio has moved cautiously in adopting clean energy and new energy sector technologies. The state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and energy efficiency measures were frozen two years ago, but were mostly re-instated by Republican Gov. John Kasich. Permanent changes to the energy efficiency measures, however, were not lifted. More recently the commission approved a cost cap on utility spending on energy efficiency.

The RPS, meanwhile, is “humming along,” Trish Demeter, vice president of energy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council, said. But the RPS is set at a relatively low level, 12.5 percent by 2027, putting it “far behind” other Midwest states.

A bill under consideration in the Ohio legislature, HB 114, would reduce the state’s RPS to 8.5 percent in 2022 and lower the energy efficiency target to 17.2 percent from 22.2 percent. And, unlike grid modernization efforts in other states, such as New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision program, Ohio’s PowerForward effort was not a docketed process until the recent establishment of the PowerForward Collaborative. PowerForward to date has mostly been about discussions and recommendations.

Rubber starts to meet road

“We have some challenges on the basic infrastructure to support grid modernization, but I think we can get there,” Demeter said. “PowerForward started the process.” With the formation of the PowerForward Collaborative, “the rubber starts to meet the road.”

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To date, Ohio has two non-wires alternative projects that use battery storage to defer transmission and distribution investments. One is a 3-MW solar array combined with a 7-MW/3 MWh-lithium-ion battery storage system for the Village of Minster. The storage system was built by S&C Electric with Half Moon Ventures (HMV) and the local municipal utility.

In late October, Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University laid out a proposal for a $100 million microgrid, which would include a 48-MW combined heat and power plant, in downtown Cleveland.

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