The epoch times

Power grid reliability at risk as coal plants shut down faster than new renewables emerge.

As the United States races to reduce carbon emissions,⁢ energy executives ⁣are growing increasingly concerned about the reliability of the power grid. This worry was echoed multiple times during a joint hearing of Pennsylvania and ​Ohio⁢ state lawmakers in Pittsburgh, where they‌ discussed the PJM electric grid.

PJM is responsible for coordinating⁣ the movement⁢ of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia, ensuring that ⁣power is always‍ available ​when needed. It ⁣is one of seven regional transmission⁣ organizations in the US, with​ two others operating in Canada.

PJM serves over 65 million people across nearly 369,000 square miles.

In recent years, there has been a rapid retirement of coal, ‍oil, gas, and nuclear power generators due to government ‌and ‍private sector policies, as well as economic factors, according ⁣to a report by ⁤PJM.

Several power plants, including the⁤ Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station⁤ and the Homer ⁤City Generating Station, have already ⁢shut down, while⁤ others like the Conemaugh Generating Station, ⁣Keystone Generating ​Station, and ‍Brandon Shores⁣ power plant are scheduled for closure in⁤ the coming years.

Steve DeFrank, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, testified that‍ these retirements have resulted in a significant loss of capacity, ⁢with 2,000 megawatts from ⁤the Homer City Generating Station, 3,400 megawatts​ from Conemaugh‍ and Keystone,⁤ and another 1,300 megawatts ‍from Brandon ⁣Shores.

PJM is facing major ‌challenges due to these retirements.

More⁤ Renewables and More ‍Demand

‍ As retired generation is replaced, new generation projects are going through the permitting process. However,⁣ almost all new requests ‌to connect to the‌ PJM grid are coming⁢ from ⁣renewable‌ resources and batteries, with⁣ solar accounting for 43%, wind for 16%, storage resources for 23%, and hybrids of‍ batteries co-located with renewables, ⁣primarily solar, for 16%, according to PJM.

This transition to more renewables is happening at a time when the demand for electricity ⁣is expected ‌to ‍skyrocket. President Joe Biden has set ambitious goals for electric vehicle ⁢adoption, aiming for 60% of new car ‍sales to be electric by 2030 and 67% by 2032. These‌ regulations also promote the‌ use of electric stoves and electric heat, creating the perception of ⁤immediate environmental benefits. ‌However, it’s⁢ important ⁤to note that electricity ‌comes from a ‍mix of power sources.

Asim ⁣Haque, senior vice president for state and member services for‍ PJM, testified about the concern of a supply crunch in the coming years. He highlighted the‍ increased demand, decreased supply, and the slow pace of new ⁤generation projects as fundamental supply and demand issues.

Electricity in PJM’s ​grid is generated by various sources such as coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar ‍companies. ‌These⁤ companies sell power through three PJM markets: the “day ahead” market, the “real time”⁤ market, and the “capacity” market.​ The capacity market ensures ‌power availability three years in advance, while the‍ real-time market responds to current‌ conditions. When solar and wind are not available, coal, gas, and ​nuclear ⁢power are relied upon to meet the demand.

As the transition⁢ to more renewables like‍ solar and‌ wind continues, the risk to grid reliability evolves, according to Mr. Haque.

“While solar ‌resources perform well in the summer, their performance may not be ⁣as strong in the winter. How should the market⁤ adapt to‍ account for this engineering fact?” Mr. Haque questioned.

Winter Weather‌ Demand

⁢During the winter storm Elliot in December 2022, a sudden temperature drop and⁣ strong winds caused widespread generator failures⁣ and frozen natural gas supplies⁤ in Pennsylvania. This led to power ⁤outages for ⁤neighboring utilities connected to PJM’s grid.

PJM fuel mix during winter storm Elliott in⁣ December 2022. (Courtesy of Rachel Gleason)

“PJM ⁢operators had to implement multiple emergency procedures and appeal to⁢ the public to reduce energy consumption in order to⁤ maintain grid reliability,” said Mr. DeFrank. “All generator types, except for nuclear resources, were significantly affected​ by⁣ the winter storm.”

However, as long as PJM can ⁣meet the real-time demand, the lights will stay on and the power will keep flowing. PJM constantly adjusts the real-time power mix to ‌prevent the risk of blackouts. Currently, fossil​ fuels make up the majority of⁢ the real-time power blend. A pie chart‍ on the PJM website displays the current⁢ mix of resources providing power.

The challenges to grid reliability become more pronounced when‍ retired generation is not‌ adequately replaced by new generation projects.

“It’s not⁤ just about replacing​ retired generation one-to-one with new generation, but also considering the intermittent nature of⁤ renewable energy sources,” testified Diane Holder, vice ​president of entity engagement and corporate services⁤ for ‌Reliability First, a company that identifies risks and solutions for electric reliability issues.

Earlier⁢ testimony indicated that to ‌maintain reliability, about three ⁤times as many renewable megawatts are ⁣needed‍ to replace retiring fossil fuels.

“Policies that​ ensure a diverse portfolio of generation types ‌throughout the transition, as well as policies‍ that allow for environmental waivers when necessary to maintain reliability, will greatly contribute ⁢to a reliable transition,” Ms. Holder emphasized.

How did⁤ the⁣ recent power outages across several states during extreme weather​ conditions highlight the ⁣vulnerability of the power grid?

S, leading to power outages across several states. This ⁣event highlighted the vulnerability of the power ⁢grid during extreme weather conditions and raised concerns​ about the ability of renewable energy sources to meet the increased demand in such ⁤situations.

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