Polar Vortex Highlights Grid Reliability Concerns
One of the chief concerns about the EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan is the effect that the regulation would have on electric grid reliability.
We’ve written before about the roughly 50 gigawatts of installed baseload capacity that the EPA itself acknowledges will be retired by 2020 directly as a result of the proposed rule, as well as the 70 gigawatts slated for retirement as a result of other EPA regulations. Stakeholders and policymakers can see for themselves which generating stations in their state the EPA includes in their estimates by using the interactive map on our website. Altogether, these 120 gigawatts of installed capacity can generate enough electricity to power 120 million homes.
During the polar vortex this past winter, American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest investor owned utilities in the U.S. with significant service areas in the Midwest, was running approximately 89 percent of their coal-fired generation that is slated for retirement. Once these retirements take place in 2015, it could become extremely difficult for AEP and other utilities to be able to provide their customers with ample supplies of electricity during peak demand coming as a result of extreme weather events.
A new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) examining the effect of the polar vortex on the electric grid buttresses many of these reliability concerns. For example, gas-fired power plants saw a higher than normal rate of outages during the event due to equipment freezing. Furthermore, a number of electricity producers were unable to secure enough natural gas due to a lack of infrastructure. These occurrences raise serious questions about the second building block of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan which mandates more natural gas to be used by electricity producers.
It should also be mentioned that during the height of the polar vortex, the amount of electricity generated from wind and solar was negligible to nonexistent. An increased use of renewables makes up part of the third building block of the Clean Power Plan.
The solution to these reliability problems is actually fairly simple. If employed, an “all of the above” energy strategy will lead to an abundance of affordable, safe and reliable electricity with enough versatility to withstand extreme weather events. Unfortunately, the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan drive’s the nation’s electric generation mix in the other direction.