Non-transmission alternatives or NTAs are smart grid programs and technologies that complement and improve operation of existing electricity transmission systems, deferring or eliminating the need for upgrades to the transmission system. NTAs can an deliver improvements to the grid at a lower cost than some transmission projects. Distributed generation, storage, and demand response can play roles in NTA projects.
In Maine, legislative policy supports selecting NTAs over transmission development if an NTA can meet an identified reliability need at a lower cost to consumers than the proposed transmission project. But under current law, no single entity formally coordinates or is required to postulate alternatives to transmission development.
In previous cases, the Maine Public Utilities Commission has investigated the need for a smart grid coordinator, approved a non-transmission alternative pilot project in the Boothbay region, and considered the scope of what an NTA Coordinator might do. From these dockets, a vision has emerged of the NTA Coordinator as an entity that would develop cost-effective alternatives to transmission projects. Under this vision, the NTA Coordinator would address the policy and goals of the Maine's Smart Grid Policy Act to “improve the overall reliability and efficiency of the electric system, reduce ratepayers’ costs in a way that improves the overall efficiency of electric energy resources, reduce and better manage energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
But key questions remain, including whether and how an NTA Coordinator will be designated, the scope of its functions and duties. Another fundamental question is whether these functions will be performed by transmission and distribution utilities, or by some third party entity.
In a Notice of Investigation dated April 4, 2016, the Maine Public Utilities Commission opened its investigation into these questions. The notice describes the proceeding as focused on one approach to economically optimizing the electric system between generation and transmission:
Specifically, through this proceeding, the Commission expects to address this legislative policy by (1) developing the framework for selecting a NTA Coordinator and (2) determining the scope of the NTA Coordinator’s functions and duties. The Commission will also resolve the question of whether a third party entity or the transmission and distribution (T&D) utilities should perform the NTA Coordinator functions. This investigation will also address the role of an Advisory Planning Committee (APC) and the process for NTA development both within a CPCN proceeding and for transmission and distribution projects that are not required to file a CPCN petition. Finally, an end-product of this proceeding will be either the contours of an RFP or that of a rate incentive proposal should the Commission determine that the utility and not a third party should perform the functions of an NTA Coordinator.Along with the notice of investigation, the Commission also issued "Strawman" and "Process Chart" documents for comment.
The notice set deadlines for filing petitions to intervene by April 21, 2016, and for comments on the Strawman and Process Chart by April 28, 2016. An initial case conference was scheduled for May 12, 2016.