Last week, many of the nation’s electric industry leaders, including FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, PJM CEO Andrew Ott and ISO-NE CEO Gordan van Welie, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to assess the electric grid's performance during the recent “Bomb Cyclone”, which gripped most of the eastern United States with frigid temperatures. The witnesses noted that wholesale electric market performance improved significantly since the last notable cold weather event — the polar vortex of 2014, but lawmakers peppered the panelists with questions related to better compensating baseload resources and natural gas constraints in the Northeast.
In one notable exchange, Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked Chairman McIntyre’s personal opinion of the risks posed to resilience by the impending nuclear and coal retirements on "a scale of 1 to 10."
"We're probably clearly at a five," McIntyre told her, underscoring the more optimistic tone about the grid's performance this winter.
Overall, while the power system performed well, many panelists emphasized the need for ongoing reforms. Notably, PJM CEO Ott reiterated PJM’s stance that “online” generation needs to be better priced in the energy markets, a clear nod to PJM’s proposed price formation reforms that it put forth in November 2017.
Further, New England faced capacity challenges during the Bomb Cyclone when the Pilgrim nuclear facility went offline after the loss of a power lines feeding into the plant, forcing the region to rely heavily on oil-fired plants and imports from New York to compensate for the loss of power. ISO-NE van Welie stated that as the region shifts to cleaner resources and potentially energy storage, it needs to address how to make that transition without losing reliability or relying heavily on natural gas as a main resource.
As discussions related to grid resilience and wholesale market performance continue, a host of challenges and opportunities are expected present themselves for renewable energy and energy storage proponents, which while clean and declining in costs, are often derided as being less reliable than traditional generation resources such as fossil fuel and nuclear-powered resources.