Lawmakers to FERC: Redefine grid resilience to boost coal

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2020

Twenty-two Senate and House Republican lawmakers yesterday urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to finish defining grid “resilience” following years of agency inaction.

The effort is in part an attempt to boost the coal industry, which is being steadily priced out by cheap natural gas and renewable energy, strangled by regulations to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change, and squeezed by weak international demand.

“Every home and business depends on the grid’s ability to keep the lights on, and this effort is about preserving access to reliable and affordable baseload power, like coal, which can meet the demand for electricity, regardless of weather or time of day,” said Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, who led a group of Republican senators in sending a letter to FERC, which oversees major natural gas projects and energy markets.

“FERC has already gathered public input on the issue of grid resilience, but as we’ve seen during recent events, including California’s rolling blackouts in August, we need clear action to strengthen the grid by stopping the alarming loss of baseload generation capacity,” he said.

A group of House lawmakers sent a similar plea, asking the influential panel to return to a January 2018 docket seeking comments on grid resilience.

“The time for action is long overdue,” the House lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to resist this issue and act in an urgent and thorough fashion.”

After rejecting a bid by then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants in 2018, FERC launched an inquiry into the resilience of the bulk power system (Energywire, Jan. 9, 2018).

In its order, the commission said it needed to “examine holistically the resilience of the bulk power system” to develop a common understanding “of what resilience of the bulk power system means and requires.”

The agency said the move was needed for determining the nature of risks to the grid and possible fixes.

“This examination of the resilience of the bulk power system will be a priority of the Commission,” FERC said at the time.

“By the end of next year, nearly 42,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired electric generation will have closed from the time FERC opened the resilience docket,” the senators wrote. “The loss of electric generation resources that can run when called upon is having consequences for electric reliability.”

For example, the lawmakers noted, the grid operator in California was forced to impose rolling blackouts last August in part due to the state’s increasing “reliance on intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind.”

“Yet, these events were not unexpected,” they wrote. “As California went down the path of closing its baseload generation resources to meet its renewable energy mandates, state regulators raised the risk of supply shortages as early as 2017.”

The letters come as FERC faces a major leadership shake-up. President Trump unexpectedly demoted former Republican Chairman Neil Chatterjee to commissioner earlier this month, appointing staunch conservative James Danly to lead the influential panel.

Observers have attributed Chatterjee’s demotion to his efforts to boost renewable energy and storage technologies, which many see as a viable alternative to baseload resources like coal (Energywire, Nov. 6).

Last month, a pro-coal trade group, America’s Power, also urged FERC to revisit the resilience docket, saying coal and other baseload resources are necessary to withstand cybersecurity threats and enhance grid resilience during extreme weather events (Energywire, Oct. 21).