Most of US electric grid faces risk of resource shortfall through 2027, NERC finds

Source: By Robert Walton, Utility Dive • Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2022

Power lines cut through woods winter snow. Getty Images

Dive Brief:

  • Grid operators in California, Ontario and the parts of the Midwest face a “high risk” of resource adequacy shortfalls from 2023 to 2027 during normal seasonal peak conditions, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. said in its Long-Term Reliability Assessment released Thursday.
  • Generation retirements in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and Northeast Power Coordinating Council-Ontario footprints are outpacing replacement capacity, while the California Independent System Operator must address challenges associated with variable resources and changing demand, the report found.
  • Other regions, including Texas, swaths of the U.S. West and Southwest, and New England, meet resource adequacy criteria but face “elevated risk” of shortfalls in extreme weather conditions.

Dive Insight:

“We are living in extraordinary times, from an electric industry perspective,” John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, told reporters in a Thursday call to discuss the report. “There are extraordinary reliability challenges and opportunities in front of us.”

NERC has been warning about the speed of the energy transition in recent years. “Just to say it for the fourth or fifth time: Managing the pace of our generation retirements and our resource changes to ensure we have enough energy and essential services is an absolute necessity,” Moura said.

It is also clear that the bulk power system is “impacted by changing weather more than it ever has been,” he said. “It’s vitally important that we’re planning and operating power systems that can be resilient to extreme weather. That includes maintaining our baseload generation fleet, but also different transmission solutions that will enable even more reliability and resilience options.”

Image shows areas of the NERC footprint at elevated or high risk of resource shortfalls. This includes most of the United States.

MISO, NERC said in its assessment, faces a 1,300 MW shortfall beginning next summer which “continues to grow throughout the 10-year assessment period as coal, nuclear and natural gas generation retire faster than replacement resources are connecting.”

MISO officials say NERC’s assessment is in line with its own analysis.

“MISO is facing a Reliability Imperative as the region undergoes transformational change, with sizeable segments of generation aging, the resource portfolio shifting to increasing amounts of wind and solar, and load shapes potentially changing with electrification,” Brandon Morris, strategic communications advisor for the grid operator, said in an email.

Morris added that MISO is working on several resource adequacy reforms, including reevaluating the use of a reliability based demand curve and “evaluating approaches to value resource attributes critical to reliably operating the evolving portfolio.”

In Ontario, a reserve margin shortfall of 1,700 MW begins in 2025 and “continues to grow throughout [the] assessment period due to generation retirements and lengthy planned nuclear maintenance outages,” NERC said.

California has been alleviating near-term capacity shortages by adding new resources and retaining generation that had been slated to retire, NERC said. But “variable resource output and changing demand could cause energy shortfalls that range from 1–10 hours.”

Other parts of the U.S. face possible resource shortfalls in the next few years due to extreme weather, “on the order of a once per decade type of weather event, or they replicate events that have been recently experienced,” said Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of reliability assessment.

Over the next 10 years, NERC’s assessment found about 88 GW of generating capacity will be retired across its footprint.

“Effective regional transmission and integrated resource planning processes are the key to managing the retirement of older nuclear, coal-fired, and natural gas generators in a manner that prevents energy risks or the loss of necessary sources of system inertia and frequency stabilization that are essential for a reliable grid,” the report concluded.

The report also identified several “emerging electrification challenges,” including new load from electric vehicles and cryptocurrency mining. NERC’s recommendations include expanding resource adequacy evaluations “beyond reserve margins at peak times to include energy risks for all hours and seasons,” and an increased focus on distributed energy resources “as they are deployed at increasingly impactful levels.”

America’s Power, an industry group representing the coal sector, commended NERC on the report but said it underreports the extent of generation retirements.

“The new assessment continues to warn about the potential for power outages in certain areas of the country because of coal retirements,” America’s Power President and CEO Michelle Bloodworth said in a statement.

The group said its own analysis shows about 93,000 MW of coal-fired generation have announced plans to retire by 2030, “and we expect more coal retirements, especially during 2026-2028, because of [Environmental Protection Agency] regulations. … Therefore, coal retirements are almost certain to be even greater than NERC’s assumption.”