First Native American tribe set to be a transmission owner in the California ISO

The Morongo Band of the Mission Indians is on track to become the first Native American tribe to be a participating transmission owner in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) footprint, creating a critical connection to help meet the state’s green energy goals, CAISO reported on Feb. 12.

The CAISO Board of Governors recently approved the Morongo Transmission LLC application, which is majority-owned by the Morongo Band of the Mission Indians. It marks the first time a federally recognized tribe has received the designation within the CAISO’s balancing authority.

The board’s action supports the completion of the West Devers project, which connects solar, wind, and battery resources located in eastern Riverside County and Imperial Valley to the grid.

CAISO first approved the need for the project in 2011, calling for Southern California Edison (SCE) to upgrade 48 corridor miles of existing transmission lines (184 circuit miles) of 220-kilovolt circuits with high capacity conductors designed to increase the power flow by 3,200 megawatts.

To gain access to critical right-of-way on the Morongo Indian Reservation in Riverside County, SCE entered into an agreement with the tribe exchanging the right for the tribe to invest in a share of the transmission project.

The transmission line upgrade is scheduled for completion in May and supports California’s renewable portfolio standard and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, CAISO noted.

The board’s action is conditional on the review and approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“This is a very important step in diversifying the ISO’s stakeholder base,” said CAISO CEO and President Elliot Mainzer in a statement. “I’d like to recognize the Morongo Band of the Mission Indians and Southern California Edison for their creativity and flexibility in developing an innovative ownership structure that enables this critical transmission project to proceed.”

Mainzer was a recent guest on the American Public Power Association’s Public Power Now podcast. He discussed, among other things, key takeaways from a recently released final root cause analysis of an August 2020 heat wave and rotating outages in the state and how CAISO is preparing for this summer.

Click here to access the podcast episode with Mainzer.