Winter reliability strong, RTOs tell FERC, undermining DOE NOPR justification
Federal energy regulators turned their attention toward the coming winter on Thursday, hearing presentations from staff and each RTO and ISO about expectations for the colder months.
“At this time,” staff said, “we do not see major risk factors that would likely lead to significant market disruptions during this winter.”
The six organized market operators under FERC jurisdiction reinforced that claim, saying even in markets like New England, where gas pipeline capacity has raised power supply concerns, they are prepared even if temperatures drop below expectations.
“The generation assets and transmission assets perform well and are accustomed to cold weather,” ISO-NE Vice President for System Operations Peter Brandien said. “We may have some delayed starts for units that haven’t been on and we’re bringing them on in a cold morning but we don’t see forced outages due to cold weather.”
Those comments, echoed by other RTOs, run counter to the Department of Energy’s justification for its proposal to provide cost recovery for coal and nuclear plants with 90 days of fuel onsite. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has repeatedly said the rule is necessary to protect the grid from events like the Polar Vortex, an extended cold snap that forced some generators offline in 2013-2014.
“I don’t think any of you want to stand up in front of your constituents and explain why the decision had to be between turning our lights on and keeping our family warm,” Perry warned House lawmakers at a hearing last week.
Brandien said long periods of extreme cold could still pose problems in ISO-NE, when plants “are using oil and LNG pretty hard and we don’t have time to get shipment or replenishment of those fuels.”
The ISO’s winter reliability program is meant to combat such issues by requiring generators to keep stockpiles of oil or LNG onsite. This is the last year for the program, which Brandien said was always meant as a “stopgap,” after which the ISO will implement a new “pay for performance” tariff in the capacity market.
Other ISOs said their post-Polar Vortex reliability reforms are on track as well, including new capacity performance rules in PJM intended to ensure ample firm generation is available to meet demand.
“Capacity performance megawatts have increased from 95,000 MW last year to 112,000 MW in the delivery year 2017-2018 and should be up to 100% [of the ISO’s target] by the delivery year 2020-2021,” PJM Director of Operations Planning Dave Souder told regulators.
PJM also continues to study grid resilience, Souder said, including extreme weather events, physical and cyber grid attacks and the increased reliance on gas pipelines. A contingency analysis of the pipeline system is due later this month, he said, and the ISO will run a cybersecurity drill on the gas and electric system early next year, as well as an assessment of storm surge impacts on the mid-Atlantic power grid.
Outside of the Eastern Interconnect, reliability problems could surface in Southern California, due to the recent disruption of two pipelines near the Aliso Canyon storage facility in the Los Angeles basin, which continues to operate at only partial capacity.
“At this point [gas transport] hasn’t impacted the bulk electric system or our generation because our loads are lower,” said California ISO Executive Director for System Operations Nancy Traweek. “However with those lines out and depending when they come back they could impact us this winter because gas generation is first off when it gets cold.”