Energy Managers, Producers Warn of Reliability Issues

AUDUBON PA – Coal-fired electric power advocates recently warned Audubon-based PJM Interconnection, which operates the energy grid that stretches from Illinois to New Jersey, that they believe near-term coal plant retirements could increase risks of electricity shortages sooner than expected.

PJM published a Feb. 24 (2023; Friday) white paper that acknowledged a possible risk of future shortages, but apparently not to the extent claimed in a March 6 (Monday) letter from America’s Power, a coal plant trade group. Other power grid operators reportedly also issued similar warnings.

PJM’s research highlighted four trends:

  • Electricity demand is likely to continue to increase, due in part to “proliferation of high-demand data centers in the region;”
  • Thermal generators (like coal) are being retired at a rapid pace due to government and private sector policies, as well as economics;
  • Retirements could outpace the construction of new resources, due to industry forces that include siting and supply chains; and
  • Because PJM’s interconnection queue is composed primarily of intermittent and limited-duration resources, it would “need multiple megawatts of these resources” to replace 1 megawatt of thermal generation.

The problems could be avoided, PJM added, with a variety of suggested actions intended “to de-risk the future.”

America’s Power claimed the rate of coal-produced electricity retirements “could be three times greater” than PJM’s white paper anticipated. Fossil-fuel power plants, mostly coal-fired, are being shut down faster than replacement power sources – predominantly wind and solar – can be built, the trade group added.

“PJM’s paper is yet another warning that we are getting closer to an electric reliability crisis caused by the retirement of thermal power plants, especially those fueled by coal,” America’s Power president and CEO Michelle Bloodworth said. Unless policy makers take action, Bloodworth charged, “more than two-thirds of the nation’s coal fleet will have shut down by 2030.”

Bloodworth recommended those addressing the concerns should include state utility commissioners, regional transmission organizations, the federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others.

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