PA Senate Holds Public Hearing On PJM Electric Grid Reliability

On February 27, 2023, two State Senate Committees held a joint public hearing to evaluate the PJM Interconnection grid reliability during Winter Storm Elliot. The joint hearing was conducted by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

The hearing was prompted by the public concerns raised during the storm that occurred over the days during the Christmas holidays in 2022. One panel included the PUC and PJM (the operators of the electric grid that serves Pennsylvania). In their testimony, both entities described the events that led to the warnings given to consumers during the storm. These warnings included a call for electric customers to reduce use, and the potential of rolling black outs.

According to the testimony of PJM, the crisis was caused by the un-forecasted cold temperatures, a breakdown in power plant equipment processing natural gas used for generation, and the inability of some plants to obtain enough natural gas.

PJM indicated in terms of the natural gas issue, 70% of the problem was operational breakdown of equipment, and 30% the lack of adequate supplies of gas. It was mentioned several times that the use of oil backup was critical in the plants navigating the situation.

PJM indicated it had just released a report (click here to view) addressing its concerns about the near- and long-term dangers of the retirement of power generation facilities running on thermal fuel (gas, coal) and doubts that use of power production by renewables (solar, wind) can be realistically developed fast enough to meet the demand being caused by the closing of thermal fuel plants. Nuclear was also cited as a thermal source that is currently in place in Pennsylvania  and will be important components going forward. The term Great Transition was used to describe the period of the upcoming years as the green replaces fossil fuels in electric power generation.

The second panel included representatives of the coal industry, nuclear and renewable developers. One notable comment by this group was that the renewable market will not be developed even by 2035 to meet zero emission goals.

In general, the testimony demonstrated that the transition to renewable fuel is being driven by governmental policies in most markets-and that the patchwork of these  state and regional efforts is raising the need for state energy policies to coordinate the ultimate impact on the grids.

Also referenced in the observations by the testifiers is the fact the demands on the grid will continue to increase as more electric vehicles are used, and in result of electrification policies. What was made clear by both Senate Chairs was the need this year to develop a state energy policy which was a sentiment also echoed by Governor Shapiro in public statements.

A link to watch the Senate hearing can be found here.