DOE Confirms Threat to Grid Reliability

DOE Confirms Threat to Grid Reliability

Several previous articles explored whether grid reliability was being endangered when RTO/ISOs used auctions to select which generation source to use.

The initial article described how oil saved New England from blackouts this past winter. See, How oil saved New England

Successive articles delved into how the auction system worked.

In each instance, it was suggested that the auction system should be abandoned, because auctions would eventually lead to an unreliable grid where blackouts could wreak havoc on Americans.

This article looks at the recent Department of Energy (DOE) report confirming that the future wave of retiring nuclear and coal-fired power plants, largely the result of the auction system, will create a grid that is unreliable.

While the preceding articles focused solely on ISO-NE, the DOE report covers all five of the Independent System Operators (ISOs) involved in the January 2018 weather event.

The DOE report, published: March 13, 2018, is titled:

Reliability, Resilience and the Oncoming Wave of Retiring Baseload Units:      Volume I: The Critical Role of Thermal Units During Extreme Weather Events

The report focused on the five ISOs most affected by this past winter’s severe January storm, which is being referred to as the “Bomb Cyclone”. The ISOs are:

  • ISO New England (ISO-NE), New York ISO (NYISO), PJM Interconnection (PJM), Midcontinent ISO (MISO), and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP)

Quoting from the report’s executive summary:

“During the worst of the storm from January 5-6, 2018, actual U.S. electricity market experience demonstrated that without the resilience of coal- and fuel oil/dual-firing plants—its ability to add 24-hour baseload capacity—the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages, likely leading to widespread blackouts.”

“Experience with such blackouts indicates the potentially enormous toll in both economic losses and human suffering associated with widespread lack of electricity, utilized as the primary home heating source for nearly 40 percent of U.S. households, and necessary for running the electric fans of natural gas furnaces, for extended periods.”

Conclusions from the DOE report included:

  • Across the six ISOs, coal provided 55% of the incremental daily generation needed, or 764,000 out of 1,213,000 gigawatt-hours per day (GWh/d).
  • Combined, fossil and nuclear energy plants provided 89% of electricity during peak demand across all the ISOs, with 69% coming from fossil energy plants (nearly all from traditional sources.)
  • Due to natural gas pipeline and delivery constraints, fuel oil provided almost all the surge capacity in the Northeast, barely enabling ISO-NE, in particular, to meet demand, as it experienced rapid depletion of its fuel oil storage reserves.
  • In PJM, the largest of the ISOs, coal provided the most resilient form of generation, due to available reserve capacity and on-site fuel availability, far exceeding all other sources (providing three times the incremental generation from natural gas and twelve times that from nuclear units); without available capacity from partially utilized coal units, PJM would have experienced shortfalls leading to interconnect-wide blackouts.
  • Available wind energy was 12% lower during the Bomb Cyclone than for a typical winter day resulting in a need for dispatchable fossil generation to make up this generation in addition to its resiliency role in meeting the greater demand during the event. 
  • Retirement of aging coal and nuclear generation infrastructure may be underestimated which could give rise to reliability concerns and an inability to meet projected electricity demand; however, more study is required to evaluate the impact. 

(The remaining conclusions were mostly on the increased cost of electricity and the lack of pipeline capacity.)

This chart from the DOE report summarizes the key finding that coal provided the bulk of the electricity needed during this event, while wind and solar created a deficit that had to be made up by coal-fired and oil-fired power plants.

The remainder of the DOE report provided the detailed analysis to support its conclusions and called for more study.

It should be noted that PJM spokesmen have said there is no threat to reliability and that PJM has adequate capacity.

While this boils down to a technical argument between specialists, the ordinary American is excluded.

The auction system used by these ISOs is designed to support wind and solar and to exclude baseload power. The root of this approach is the ideologue’s obsession with cutting CO2 emissions and creating a carbon free grid.

This issue is sufficiently important for the media to be covering it in detail, so that Americans can intercede through Congress if necessary.

If there are blackouts in the next few years, it will be Americans who will suffer, not the ideologues who have imposed the auction system on two-thirds of the United States.

The full DOE report is available at 

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