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Rush to Green Generation Fuel Mix Endangers Grid, NERC Warns

The West, including California and the Pacific Northwest, will need to spend $127.5 billion over the next 21 years to meet the region's thirst for electrons, according to a new Brattle Group study released at the Edison Electric Institute's annual financial conference held Monday in Phoenix.

The news follows another report released separately by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation that warns policymakers are not adequately taking into account the effects the race to develop greener generation will have on grid reliability.

"It appears that greenhouse gas issues and electric utility reliability are on a collision course," the report quotes Ken Farmer, director of strategic planning for Beauregard Electric Cooperative in DeRidder, La.

The Brattle Group estimates the West will need 34.5 GW of new generation by 2030, with 20 GW in the form of coal. Combined-cycle, combustion-turbine and renewables account for just under 5 GW apiece. The amount of new power could be almost halved if the calculations included aggressive efficiency measures.

If figuring in a federal carbon policy, Brattle said the West will need to spend $189.7 billion to develop 41.2 GW. The new generation would be comprised of just over 10 GW of coal with sequestration, about 5 GW of nuclear, a couple of GW of combustion turbines and about 21 GW of renewables. The scenario does not include any combined-cycle plants.

"We are concerned that . . . current climate initiatives do not adequately address key reliability objectives, particularly the need for a strong and robust transmission system," Rick Sergel, president and CEO of NERC, said on releasing the report Monday. He called carbon initiatives the "number one" issue for the power industry.

NERC, responsible for enforcing the nation's grid-reliability rules as approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also warned that carbon-reduction rules may increase reliance on natural gas, which decreases generation-fuel diversity and exposes the grid to potential supply disruptions.

Brattle noted that a fuel switch from coal to gas has been under way in the nation since 2002, with more than 30,000 MW of new coal plants canceled or delayed from 2002 to 2007. Some 3,500 MW were canceled during the first half of 2008.

Meanwhile, NERC's 2008 long-term reliability assessment found developers nationally plan to build over 20,000 MW more of new natural gas-fired plants in the 2008-2016 period when compared to data submitted just one year ago.

The NERC report, "Industry Concerns on the Reliability Impacts of Climate Change Initiatives," quotes the American Public Power Association as saying this "dash to gas" is the "most immediate risk to reliability."

The APPA, whose members are users of coal, told NERC of several instances where proposed climate initiatives could squeeze existing coal-generation availability and in turn threaten reliability. One example came from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

"While participating in the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market Project of the South Coast Air Quality Incentives Market Program, LADWP encountered situations when [nitrogen oxide] credits were extremely limited and difficult to procure, causing LADWP to limit sales to only the most critical times. The reliability problem emerges when all of those sales are exhausted and then the market requires additional supply from generation that LADWP would not be allowed to run," the utility said.

LADWP has been highly critical of California's proposals to implement AB 32 by using a cap-and-trade program.

Also, utility executives worry that existing fleets will be retired too early to accommodate renewables. California Independent System Operator CEO Yakout Mansour has said on several occasions that the existing fleet must be maintained for reliability even while adding significant amounts of renewables generation.

Transmission limitations are the "fundamental obstacle" to reaching California's climate goals and maintaining reliability, the Cal-ISO told NERC.

The fuel switching requires significant transmission upgrades, a fact that stakeholders said is getting inadequate attention. NERC quoted Michael Heyeck, senior vice president for transmission for American Electric Power, who characterized the problem as a "threat to our national security."

Brattle estimates the nation will need to spend from $295 billion to $371 billion to upgrade the grid by 2030, depending on different scenarios. California will need to lay out $5.7 billion if it adopts a 33 percent renewables portfolio standard goal.

The generation built over the past 20 years already has pushed the transmission grid closer to its limits than "at any other time in the past," Sergel warned.

Although NERC called for construction of new power lines, it conceded the task is very difficult, with NIMBYism a major problem whose influence is growing, the reliability watchdog said.

In addition to new lines, the report also noted the need for increased reactive power and voltage support [Steven Greenlee].

Technical Articles - index of technical articles related to GENI's vision. Includes: articles written by GENI and about GENI concerning the proof of concept and some industry reports relating to the GENI vision

Updated: 2016/06/30

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