In the United States, electricity law delineates authority across federal and state jurisdictions, yet many essential electricity system functions are organized at a regional-scale. Seven regional transmission organizations (RTOs) ensure open access to transmission, manage wholesale electricity markets, and maintain transmission system reliability. Each RTO has distinct decision-making processes that emerged from political negotiations and regional contexts. Drawing on participatory governance and institutional design literature, the paper compares RTOs across governance structures and participatory and power dimensions. This research increases the visibility of the existing balance of power in RTO governance, assesses the public interest accountability of current designs, and offers insights for understanding interactive governance in highly technical settings involving new and old industry actors and a growing number of public and civil society actors. The structures and participation practices established to enable regulatory restructuring and economic efficiencies are not necessarily suited to the current challenges of innovating new market, operating, and planning approaches for the future grid. Identifying barriers to participation, examining how different actors exercise power, and systematically assessing the rationale and purposes for various design choices can suggest ways to improve governance effectiveness, legitimacy, or fairness. This assessment suggests several opportunities for strengthening RTO governance. However, governance design in complex and dynamic systems is an ongoing challenge that will require organizational resilience in response to new challenges and adaptation as energy systems evolve.
Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions