​​By Lisa Meiman

WAPA successfully completed its transition to new reliability coordinators for its balancing authorities and transmission operators in the Western Interconnection after more than a year of preparation and testing. 

Southwest Power Pool began providing RC services to WAPA’s Western Area Upper Great Plains – West, Western Area Colorado Missouri and Western Area Lower Colorado BAs and the associated transmission operators Dec. 3. The BAs encompass the transmission operations for Upper Great Plains in the Western Interconnection, the Colorado River Storage Project and the Rocky Mountain and Desert Southwest regions.  

The Sierra Nevada region, a transmission operator within the Balancing Authority of Northern California, began receiving RC services from the California Independent System Operator in July.

“The transition went well, almost a non-event, like Y2K,” shared Vice President of Power Operations for CRSP, DSW and RM Jon Aust. “The success is largely attributed to the amount of work we, SPP and the SPP RC customers, did to get to this point. There were the little hiccups you always get with this kind of large transition, which the SPP and WAPA teams successfully navigated.” 

Overall, about 140 employees from across WAPA spent between 12 and 17 months working on the project to switch to new RCs, mostly from the Power Operations and Information Technology groups.

“The transition took a large team of dedicated staff across functional areas and regions working closely together on a very complicated project. This is an example of WAPA making significant changes to position itself for the new energy frontier,” said Transmission and Power Markets Advisor Rebecca Johnson.

The project was necessary because WAPA’s previous RC provider, Peak Reliability, announced in July 2018 it was closing its doors by the end of 2019, requiring not just WAPA but every balancing authority and transmission operator in the Western Interconnection to find a new provider. 

Balancing authorities and transmission operators are required by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to have an RC. The RC oversees transmission operations and potential areas of congestion or instability across multiple BAs and transmission operators within a geographic region.

It was a historic event for the energy industry. Never before had such a large area moved from one to several reliability coordinators. 

“With three balancing authorities and one sub-BA, WAPA served an integral role in the transition efforts, working closely with neighboring balancing authorities and transmission operators to ensure the ongoing reliable operation of the bulk electric system,” said Johnson.

WAPA staff was integral to the effort for both the CAISO and SPP RCs as the Western Interconnection moved toward the transition, representing WAPA on more than 10 different working groups and committees for each RC.

“Over 18 months, we would have three to five meetings a week with each of the RCs, and then we had our own internal meetings to keep information flowing and track all the activities that needed to be done,” said Project Manager Ralph Rhea. “We ended up with about 400 artifacts from all the meeting notes in SharePoint. We really had to prioritize what to do and when.” 

Staggered requirements add complexity

One of the largest challenges in the project was that the change was WAPA-wide, but activities occurred at different times and with different levels of change. 

“We had two parallel operations that were slightly offset,” said Rhea. “First, we had to work on SN’s transition to CAISO in July, then move toward assisting those going to SPP. They were similar efforts, but not the same.”

At the same time, each region had a different learning curve. 

“For UGP, it wasn’t quite as much change, as we have been in SPP’s RC in the Eastern Interconnection since 2015. We had to modify our tools and establish new data communication paths to connect to SPP, but most of the tools and policies they have we are accustomed to because we already had them on the East side,” said Supervisory Power System Dispatcher Craig Speidel.

SN was in a similar situation, being located within and frequently partnering with CAISO in daily operations. They just had to make their transition quicker. 

According to Rhea, about 80% of the project focused on the RM and DSW operations centers, and that effort was led primarily by Supervisory Power System Dispatcher Jerry Krebs. There were significant changes to policies, procedures and training to accommodate SPP’s way of doing business for system operating limits, congestion management, black start and more.

“This moved affected every single desk, every employee in operations for RM and DSW. There was no employee who was not impacted; everyone had to do work to make it successful,” said Aust.

IT also played a major role preparing the technology the operators rely on to manage the system. “The major activities for IT included interfacing our outage management system with the new RCs and re-pointing the data transfer paths,” said Supervisory IT Specialist Will Slinkard. “We also had to do a lot of back-end work so our models were consistent with the new RCs.”

If that wasn’t enough, the new RCs each faced major hurdles. “Neither provider was positioned to hit the transition perfectly out of the park,” said Aust. “SPP knew how to operate an RC in the East, but they had never worked in the West. There was a lot they had to learn. CAISO had a lot of experience working in the West, but had never been an RC outside California before. It was a steep learning curve for everyone.” 

Rhea added, “We were fortunate that we had selfless people in working groups. People would have to fly out to Arkansas, Colorado or California and make important decisions with limited information. That’s not easy to do. People rose to the challenge.”

For Rhea, who retired Dec. 20 after 44 combined years of military, government contractor and federal service, this last project set the stage for a new future. “Things are changing in our industry, and we’re having to go out and do big things. And more often than not, it’s in more than one region,” he said. “We’ll increasingly have to work outside of just one region, and we’ll have to understand the collaboration it requires and balance against the other day-to-day activities. These things help train WAPA employees and contractors in being flexible and meeting the challenges of the future.”

​Note: Meiman is a public affairs specialist.

Last modified on September 12th, 2023