Grid can handle extreme events with planning — watchdog

Source: Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2018

The accelerating loss of baseload electric generation, especially coal and nuclear, presents challenges to the electric power sector, the nation’s grid watchdog said in a report issued yesterday.

But the industry, grid operators and its regulators have the tools and experience needed to plan for high-impact events, said Jim Robb, CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which released its Generation Retirement Scenario yesterday.

The stress test of the bulk power system employed by NERC “is not meant to be a predictive forecast,” Robb said during a call with reporters. “It is really meant to identify risk.”

The NERC report looked at the adequacy of generation resources, fuel supply, high-voltage transmission and “the ability of the system to respond to extreme events such as another polar vortex-type event,” Robb said.

That 2014 event, which affected a majority of the Midwest and Northeast, tested the resilience of the nation’s bulk power system and exposed how extended periods of low temperatures can affect the ability of power plants to deliver when needed.

The polar vortex saw higher-than-expected forced outages at natural gas and coal plants, as well as higher-than-forecast demand from consumers.

The report comes as The Washington Post weather team on Monday reported that forecasters are tracking another possible polar vortex event by January for much of the U.S.

“Our accelerated scenario examines 10 assessment areas, finding that future planned generation capacity is sufficient in six of those areas for meeting peak demand,” said John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment.

In the other four areas, new resources would be required to accommodate large-scale generation retirements contemplated in this stress test, he said.

That would include “electric and natural gas infrastructure, expedited build-out of new generation and increased use of demand-side resources,” Moura added.

NERC urged resource planners at the state level, as well as wholesale electricity market operators, to “use their full suite of tools to manage the pace of retirements and ensure replacement infrastructure can be developed and placed in service.”

“Again, ensuring reliability throughout a significant retirement transition will likely include construction of new transmission and fuel infrastructure,” the report said.

But NERC emphasized several times that its assessment “should not be interpreted to mean the [bulk power system] cannot be operated reliably given the change in the generation resource mix.”

Moreover, the bulk power system “has reliably undergone many changes and each potential change requires adaptation, education and continuous learning,” NERC said.

“Today’s report should be viewed in context,” said Jeff Dennis, general counsel for regulatory affairs at Advanced Energy Economy, a clean energy business group.

“As NERC itself states, the report looks at unlikely scenarios that go far beyond either announced or projected power plant retirements to determine at what point there might be some risk for reliability,” he said.

The report does not show “any imminent threat to the reliability of the bulk power system,” he said.

A natural gas trade group in a statement said the NERC report “relies on too many extremes to be enlightening about real-world grid reliability.”

Pat Jagtiani, executive vice president of the Natural Gas Supply Association, welcomed the report’s suggestion that regulators consider ways to expedite the construction of new natural gas pipelines and storage capacity.

“Certainly, there is nothing here that warrants or supports the use of out-of-market actions” to offer financial support to troubled coal and nuclear plants, Jagtiani said.

“We’re further concerned that in the polar vortex scenario, there is no recognition of recent market mechanisms that have been adopted and which have already proven to increase generator performance during extreme weather stresses on the grid,” she said.