Maine may design a distribution system operator to advance distributed energy resources

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Maine has hired the consulting firm Strategen to evaluate whether a distribution system operator (DSO) could be designed to achieve growth in distributed energy resources and help the state meet other goals: lower electricity costs, improved electric system reliability, and the state’s overall climate goals.

The state law calling for the study defines roles for a DSO including overseeing integrated system planning, operating the state’s electric grids, and administering a market for distributed energy resources (DERs).

Speaking on a webinar about the study, Strategen Advisor Matthew McDonnell said the firm will evaluate the potential to reduce customers’ electric bills by first considering the “base case” for the state of Maine—that is, investment priorities that have already been established through integrated resource planning or other means. The firm will then “look at how a differentiation from that base case to more of a high DER state, as facilitated by a prospective DSO, can enable some potential cost savings going forward through load flexibility and other opportunities.”

Responding to a question about distributed storage, McDonnell added “certainly we’re thinking about distributed energy storage and its use either as a standalone asset or in conjunction with distributed solar or other energy resources.”

Standalone distributed solar was not mentioned on the webinar, which was hosted by the Maine Governor’s energy office.

The energy office said in a statement that no jurisdiction in the U.S. now has a DSO. McDonnell said Strategen is “looking to draw learnings” from similar distribution network operator approaches used in parts of the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, and Ontario, Canada.

If Strategen’s initial study concludes that a DSO can be designed to help achieve the state’s objectives, and the Governor’s energy office agrees with that conclusion, Strategen will conduct a second part of the study to develop a DSO design proposal that identifies the scope and characteristics of a DSO.

A DSO design “may not include the acquisition or ownership of any transmission and distribution utility assets,” the state law says. The law calls on the Maine governor’s energy office to ensure opportunities for stakeholder engagement throughout the study process.

The Strategen team includes consultants Lorenzo Kristov, who previously worked for California’s grid operator CAISO, and Mark Patterson, principal at Energy Catalyst in Australia.

Strategen expects the draft of its initial study to be released in late summer. If a second part of the study is authorized, that part is expected to be completed by year-end.

The nonprofit Clean Coalition, based in California, has advocated for the formation of distribution system operators in that state.

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