October 1, 2020

From SPP's COO: Pandemic response update and news from the Sept. 22 board meeting

SPP stakeholders –

Good afternoon! I hope all of you are doing well and staying safe. I’m writing to share the latest news regarding our pandemic response plans, which continue to evolve, and to provide a few updates from SPP’s recent board meeting.

We previously reported our plans to allow some staff to return to our offices beginning Oct. 5. However, our officers decided last week to postpone the first step of our return plan until at least Jan. 4, 2021. It wasn’t an easy choice. Like many of you, we’re eager to get back to normal, but case numbers are still high across our state and in Little Rock, so we continue to act with an abundance of caution. Especially given our office’s open floor plan, which could exacerbate the effects of exposure should any of our staff become sick, we’re doing all we can to safeguard the health of our employees and our ability to serve you.

Operationally, after a period of below-average load early in the pandemic, our system has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. While some specific areas in our region are still experiencing below-average load, on the aggregate, our system has seen average or above-average load consistently since late June.

In addition to load, we’ve also closely monitored generator outage trends over the course of the pandemic. We identified early on that the pandemic had led many generator owners to delay planned maintenance that, in turn, could contribute to a subsequent increase in unplanned outages if equipment failed. Fortunately, the number of forced outages among our generation fleet has been consistent with prior years, and we’ve had sufficient capacity and reserves to reliably serve demand throughout the summer and as we head into the fall season when normal maintenance activities are expected to resume.

Of course, we haven’t let the pandemic prevent us from conducting business or even from advancing important initiatives. We’re not just keeping the lights on, we’re still showing our dedication to growth, innovation and continuous improvement. In a special meeting of our Board of Directors and Members Committee on Sept. 22, our board took several actions that will bring significant value to our stakeholders in the near future.

At the meeting, President and CEO Barbara Sugg reported on a new joint study to be conducted with our neighbor MISO to identify transmission projects having mutual benefits to both sides of our shared seam. Distinct from previous efforts, this study will focus on issues specifically related to projects at generator interconnection points along the seam. We appreciate that MISO CEO John Bear took time to join the meeting and look forward to working closely with his staff on win-win solutions that address issues affecting both our systems. (Read more about the joint study in our Sept. 14 press release.)

Next, the board approved the establishment of the Strategic and Creative Re-engineering of Integrated Planning Team (SCRIPT). This group will include representatives of SPP’s board, Regional State Committee (RSC), Members Committee and Strategic Planning Committee. They will lead a yearlong effort to holistically evaluate SPP’s transmission-planning and related cost-allocation processes and recommend to the board ways to optimize and enhance them. Similar to the Holistic Integrated Tariff Team (HITT) effort that concluded in 2019, we expect the SCRIPT will ensure SPP’s planning processes are appropriately designed to deal with the challenges and opportunities our industry faces today and in the future.

The board also approved recommendations to:

  • Approve Revision Request 413 and direct SPP’s finance committee to develop a process to enhance the transparency and accuracy of the presentation of the rate calculations performed in accordance with Schedule 1A of our tariff.
  • Finalize revisions to the Western Energy Imbalance Service (WEIS) Market Tariff and authorize SPP to refile with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the tariff, Western Joint Dispatch Agreement and Western Markets Executive Committee charter, requesting an effective date of Feb. 1, 2021. This action paves the way for the final steps necessary to launch the WEIS market early next year, and we’re excited to begin to provide this valuable service to customers in the west!
  • Remove a suspension that had paused the transmission-owner selection process for the Wolf Creek-Blackberry 345-kilovolt project that was approved as part of our 2019 Integrated Transmission Planning Report. With the board’s approval, SPP will issue a request for proposal for the project, and its Oversight Committee will form an industry expert panel to assess bids in accordance with our Order 1000 process. When completed, this project will address operational issues in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas.

As you can see, we haven’t let the challenges of working remotely during the pandemic slow us down, and these recent board actions only scratch the surface of the work going on across the SPP organization. I’m looking forward to (virtually) seeing many of your at our upcoming Markets and Operations Policy Committee, Regional State Committee and board meetings throughout October. SPP will have many more accomplishments to report and recommendations to make, and I encourage all of you to join us to hear about them firsthand. SPP is what it is because of your engagement in our stakeholder process. Thanks for helping us keep affordable and reliable electricity flowing to consumers in our entire region!

Take care,

Lanny Nickell
SPP Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

Derek Wingfield, 501-614-3394, dwingfield@spp.org