Energy market widens in the West; lower prices expected

A wholesale energy market that includes California and other Western state energy systems expanded Monday with the addition of Portland’s electricity operator.

The addition of Portland General Electric to the Energy Imbalance Market will make buying energy easier and cheaper, said Steven Greenlee, spokesman for the California Independent System Operator – the nonprofit group that oversees the state’s bulk electric power grid, transmission lines and electricity market.

Launched in 2014, the market purchases and dispatches lower cost electricity in real time and helps integrate renewable energy into the power mix. It includes utilities in California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming.

“The cost of producing and delivering real-time increments of power will go down because that renewable energy can come into a much larger market and either be bought as low-cost power or be sold as lower-cost generation,” said Greenlee.

Whenever there’s an excess of power in the market, energy generators are told to power down or disconnect from the grid if there are no buyers. The expanded energy imbalance market will likely reduce the number of shutdowns or disconnections, Greenlee said.

Conversely, utilities may also be forced to power up an energy plant to make up for whatever real time power generation is needed if it’s running short of energy.

The market’s expansion will especially help California sell more of its supplies of solar power, he said.

In 2015, the market helped California save $7.4 million in energy costs by giving the state access to less expensive power rather than procure it from within the state, according to California’s Independent System Operator.

The California Energy Commission sees the expansion as a boon to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

“When you have more players, you have a better chance of balancing the energy, especially the cleaner energy available,” said Albert Lundeen, spokesman for the California Energy Commission. “With this agreement, you can, ultimately, reduce pollutant emitting generation elsewhere.”