Maine rivalling California in progressive thinking about the future of the grid

Maine rivalling California in progressive thinking about the future of the grid
Image by Karsten Bergmann from Pixabay

New legislation directs the state to begin a DSO study to enable a true market for distributed energy resources.

Most energy insiders recognize that the transition to clean energy will require a large percentage of distributed energy resources (DER), particularly distributed solar PV, batteries, electric vehicles, grid-interactive buildings, and more. These DER will need to be dispatched as part of a system that asks them to both push energy to the grid and absorb it in order to keep the grid stable as it seeks to balance generation from large inverter-based resources, i.e. wind and solar power.

Today in the US there are grid operators and an energy market at the transmission level, but the distribution utilities have always focused on the (extremely complex) task of delivering energy that is reliable, safe, and affordable. In the future, that might need to change and the state of Maine is taking initial steps toward what that DER-heavy future might look like.

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In late June, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed legislation — LD 952: An Act to Create a 21st-Century Electric Grid — that could modernize Maine’s electric grid.  

The bill directs the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) to hire a third-party consultant to conduct a two-part study for the design of a distribution system operator (DSO) in Maine. A DSO would function in Maine much like the existing independent system operator of the New England region, ISO New England, whose role is electric grid operation, market administration and power system planning. 

Part one of the study evaluates whether it is possible to design a DSO in Maine to achieve a reduction in electricity costs for customers, improve electric system reliability and performance in the state and meet Maine’s climate goals and growth of distributed energy resources at an accelerated rate. If possible, and the GEO agrees, the consultant would then proceed to design the DSO. 

“LD 952 designs the future electricity grid Maine will need to achieve its climate goals, ensuring both cost efficiency and reliability for customers and the state’s economy,” said sponsor of the bill, Gerry Runte. “We are presently transitioning toward a smarter, digitalized grid that seamlessly incorporates local electricity sources. This transition was never anticipated by our current grid design, which has remained largely unchanged over the last 100 years.” 

The GEO will present an analysis based on the consultant’s DSO design to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2025. Otherwise, if the consultant finds it is not possible to design a DSO meeting the required objectives stated above, the GEO will present part one of the consultant’s study to the Legislature within 60 days of the completion of part one of the study. 

“If Maine wants to achieve its climate goals and ensure that its distribution grids are as economical and as reliable as they can be, and if Maine wants its electric grid to serve its citizens and attract new business to the state, it needs to adopt a different perspective as to how its electricity delivery system operates, is controlled and regulated,” said Runte. “This is not a far-off vision – the technologies to implement a modern grid are readily available. What’s needed is a solid plan, the will to execute it and the willingness to become a leader in grid modernization.” 

The new law will go into effect 90 days after final adjournment of the legislative session.

This article was first published on the Power Grid website.