PJM, utilities ‘messing with’ state sovereignty is ‘biggest threat’ to climate goals: Maryland commissioner

Source: By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive • Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2021

  • A Maryland regulator blasted his state’s regional grid operator on Wednesday, blaming it and transmission owners for blocking the state from fulfilling its renewables obligations.
  • Maryland Public Service Commissioner Anthony O’Donnell grilled Matthew Segers, attorney for Exelon subsidiary Delmarva Power, during the agency’s latest administrative meeting, blaming the utility and the PJM Interconnection for renewables interconnection delays that he said are “messing with” states’ rights. The project in question was a 45.9 MW solar array that had to request a three year extension so that its commission authorization wouldn’t expire, because of delays in approving interconnection between the utility and grid operator.
  • “The biggest threat … to PJM and to the competitive marketplace is the RTO and/or the transmission owners messing with sovereign states’ rights,” O’Donnell said. “I see a pattern of delay, I just do. … It’s as obvious as the back of my hand.” State lawmakers say that while leaving the capacity market is seeming less likely, his comments reflect a broader power struggle between the state and its grid operator.

Dive Insight:

Maryland lawmakers were considering pulling out of the PJM capacity market out of frustration with a federal rule that came out last year that would raise the minimun offer price for resources bidding into the capacity market that receive state subsidies. But a new administration and new Congress “could lead to FERC decisions that will effectively nullify MOPR sooner, rather than later,” reducing Maryland’s likelihood of leaving the market, state Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D, who led the efforts, said in an email.

“However, I am still gaming that out and have not made a final decision,” she said.

Charkoudian previously said that while the MOPR rule was “the most outrageous” violation of the state’s ability to set policy, it was not the only issue the state was beginning to see with the capacity market. She said Commissioner O’Donnell’s comments reflect the broader issue — that states don’t have enough control over their resource mix.

“While states have the authority to make decisions about generation, these decisions are affected by and can be undermined by decisions made by the” regional transmission organization, she said. “In the case of PJM, state’s have almost no influence on PJM rules, while PJM rules affect renewables’ ability to participate in the capacity, wholesale, and ancillary markets. So, the broader issue that needs to be addressed is a change to the PJM decision-making structure, to give states more influence on these decisions.”

O’Donnell’s frustration Wednesday revolved around the delayed interconnection of the Egypt Road Solar Project. The PSC approved the project in 2018, according to commission staff, and in order for the project to retain its authorization it must begin construction within three years of approval, and begin operation within four.

At the end of 2020, the project filed for a three year extension, citing transmission owner Delmarva Power’s failure to process its interconnection request.

The utility’s attorney Segers explained the delay by noting that PJM had issued a request to redo the necessary interconnection study because the project had elected for a newer transmission process that required different evaluations. PJM is being “inundated” with interconnection requests, primarily from renewables, he added, which also explains the delay. A spokesperson for the utility said Delmarva is “committed to supporting all forms of clean energy in Maryland — from residential and community solar to larger scale projects — to help the State achieve its climate goals” and is actively working with all stakeholders.

“Developers for large-scale projects and others who interconnect at the transmission level must follow the PJM interconnection process,” spokesperson Jacob Sneeden added in an email.

But O’Donnell, in his questioning, noted that increased interconnection requests by renewables developers were just a response to state law, and questioned why PJM and transmission owners are not able to comply with that law.

“The legislature has passed the law, the governor is executing the law, and we’re charged with administering the law to increase renewables,” he said. “Hello? Is anybody out there? Anybody paying attention to state law?”

Maryland’s clean energy law requires the state to generate 50% of its power from renewable energy by 2030, and O’Donnell warned delaying progress will “have a huge negative effect.”

“Eventually, that rock is gonna start rolling down the hill, and it’s going to end up with an avalanche at the bottom,” he said.

A PJM spokesperson said the grid operator “will continue to work to help advance state policy initiatives,” adding it is “currently evaluating interconnection process reform through a series of stakeholder workshops in an attempt to find solutions to help accelerate the reliable integration of new generation onto the PJM system.”

President Joe Biden on Thursday named Richard Glick to chair FERC. Glick has been a vocal opponent of the MOPR expansion and has said he would like to reassess capacity auctions in order to ensure they are not inhibiting state laws. Commissioners Allison Clements and Mark Christie, sworn in to the commission in December and January, respectively, have also both indicated interest in ensuring state laws and wholesale market regulations don’t conflict, with Clements indicating she also opposed the MOPR order.