Four years ago, the Midwest grid operator MISO said it was mulling changes to demand response qualifications in order to confront the challenges of coal-fired generation being shut down.

Very little has changed, even as coal plants continue to close. MISO just released its 2016/2017 planning resource auction results -- and demand response continues to be flat-lined, accounting for 5,819 megawatts of capacity and another 3,462 megawatts of behind-the-meter resources that are also used for demand response.

Given market rules in MISO governing demand response and the nature of the Midwest market, coupled with the region's relatively low power prices, demand response is rarely called upon in MISO territory. Generation supply is getting tighter, but has not reached a point yet that is pushing MISO to move faster to overhaul its demand response rules.

“The generation fleet across MISO is rapidly changing,” Richard Doying, EVP of operations and corporate services for MISO, said in a statement. “While more generation is retiring, resulting in a tighter supply across the MISO region, the auction results show that there are sufficient resources to maintain reliability for this planning year.”

Doying acknowledged during a press conference that supply will continue to tighten and that more volatility is expected in the future.

Although there was a large spread between the prices cleared in different zones, the higher prices ($72 per megawatt-day) were still less than the controversial $150 per megawatt-day that cleared in one zone last year, as well as being lower than prices in PJM, the nation's largest grid operator.

“It’s quite uneventful,” Elta Kolo, grid analyst with GTM Research, said of MISO’s latest capacity auction. Kolo’s new demand response report, U.S. Wholesale DER Aggregation, outlines the current state of demand response in wholesale markets in the U.S., including some of the challenges in MISO.

But more eventful days could be ahead for MISO, which has subcommittees working on reconsidering some fundamental demand-response rules in its territory. One of the biggest market barriers, Kolo outlines, is the 5-megawatt minimum requirement.

“PJM’s minimum capacity limit of 100 kilowatts has fostered much broader participation of demand response from a variety of supply-side and load-modifying resources,” she notes in the report.

Another critical sticking point is the geographical limits put on demand response in MISO. In MISO, demand response cannot be aggregated across commercial pricing nodes and local balancing areas, which reduces the participation of customers with regional footprints (such as supermarkets) in demand-response markets, Kolo notes in her report.

There are other issues as well. Most of what’s considered demand response is emergency only. Additionally, most demand response is dispatched by utilities, giving MISO limited visibility into what is available in real time.

Utilities, most of which are vertically integrated in the Midwest, are simply uninterested in giving MISO more control of demand-response programs or allowing for aggregation of retail customers, at least for now.

“As reserves shrink, capacity prices will rise in MISO, and the clearing prices in the 2016/2017 planning resource auction across most zones may be an indication of what is to come,” said Kolo. “Tightening capacity in the near term may force utility hands in employing further demand response in order to mitigate shortfalls. “