Texas and the Tres Amigas Interconnection

Michael Giberson

Over the holiday NYTimes.com posted a story by ClimateWire reporter Peter Behr that does a pretty good job of describing the proposed Tres Amigas project (proposing to link the three main electric regions in the U.S. – Eastern, Western, and Texas) and surrounding issues.  Among other things, the story provides a good short summary of the Federal/Texas jurisdictional relationship, which stands as one challenge to success:

The developers have also asked FERC for a second ruling disclaiming jurisdiction over transmission providers that tie into the Tres Amigas lines and in effect, to maintain Texas’ jurisdictional independence. “Clearly, if we don’t the jurisdiction disclaimer, I can’t imagine how we get support for this in Texas,” [Tres Amigas attorney David] Raskin says.

Echoing the state’s Alamo heritage and a tenacious attachment to its independence, Texas’ largest utilities cut their power line connections with other states in 1935, after passage of the Federal Power Act in the New Deal, to keep Washington from asserting jurisdiction over their operations. (Texas had no state regulation of utilities before the 1970s, notes Judge Richard Cudahy of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals).

In one famous showdown, a Texas utility — Central and Southwest Corp. — did create a transmission link between its divisions in Texas and Oklahoma to preserve its status as an interstate electric power holding company. At night on May 4, 1976, a technician opened a switch at a CSW substation sending power surreptitiously from Vernon, Texas to Altus, Okla., according to Cudahy’s account of the “midnight connection.”

Since Texas’ other major utilities were linked to CSW, their power was also flowing in interstate commerce. Several hours later, Texas utilities were informed of these events, and two of the largest responded in outrage by severing their transmission ties to CSW, at some risk to the state’s entire grid.

The Tres Amigas petition to FERC says that because energy is converted from an AC wave to a DC electronic pulse and then back into an AC wave synchronized with the receiving grid, the electrons in Texas are not “free flowing” into New Mexico or Oklahoma, preserving Texas’ separation.

The Tres Amigas jurisdictional request submitted to FERC offers more detail (FERC docket number EL10-22-000) and for further background I’d recommend the chapter on the subject by Darren Bush and David Spence in Electric Restructuring: The Texas Story (the book recently published by AEI Press edited by Lynne and Andy Kleit).

One thought on “Texas and the Tres Amigas Interconnection

  1. Delivery of electric energy is not delivery of electrons. Electrons don’t flow freely through AC transformers (autotransformers notwithstanding), either, but that’s hardly important in a commercial or regulatory sense, is it? That said, electrons barely move in AC transmission of electric energy, whereas they do actually flow in DC transmission. [Does anybody care that they flow backward?] To further confuse the issue, electric energy flow in balanced 3-phase AC transmission at zero power factor is constant, every bit as constant as DC flow. The distinction comes mainly in the controllability of the DC link, which prevents “loop” and/or inadvertent flows that would not generally be part of the commercial transactions across a link if it were AC. I can’t really see why DC rather than AC creates a jurisdictional wall that precludes interstate commerce, when it enables transactions moving a product (energy, not electrons) across state lines.

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