As coal and nuclear plants shutter, PJM eyes energy grid’s future
The Pennsylvania-based manager of a 13-state electrical grid that serves some 65 million people has released a new report examining the changing nature of electricity production in the U.S. — namely declines in coal input and increases in natural gas and renewables — and what future impacts those shifts might have on the system.
The report, released by PJM on Thursday, forecasts that while the system can remain reliable with the addition of more natural gas and renewable resources — a trend that is already occurring and one experts say is likely to continue — there are questions about what an increased reliance on any one generation type might mean for reliability in the future.
“This analysis underscores our responsibility to continue to operate the system reliably, and explore the role of resilience, the ability to tolerate unforeseen shocks and continue to deliver electricity,” PJM CEO Andy Ott said in a statement.
“Different resources provide different reliability attributes, though new technology or regulations have the ability to improve those capabilities.”
The report follows stakeholder questions about whether the system is losing too many traditional resources as “coal plants retire and nuclear owners consider their future,” PR Newswire reports.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what the resulting shifts might mean for long-term consumer energy prices, something the report fails to touch on.
Also unclear is whether President Donald Trump’s lifting of Obama-era environmental regulations will see a resurgence in coal production and coal-powered energy production. Many, even some in the industry, doubt it will.
At the same time, nuclear power plants nationwide have found themselves unable to compete against cheaper forms of energy like renewables and natural gas.
According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as many as 19 nuclear reactors were undergoing decommissioning nationwide last year, with five of those having been shut down in the past decade.
There has also been an “unprecedented” rate of coal-fired power plant retirements blamed on more affordable options and regulations like those Trump has now moved to overturn.
As a result, renewables and natural gas continue to make up a bigger portion of the energy transmitted on systems like PJM’s, which serves Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.