Energy, Environment

Report: PJM needs better planning for higher electricity demand and more plant retirements

A new report released Tuesday morning and sponsored by advocacy group Americans for a Clean Energy Grid says that PJM – the regional transmission organization – is underestimating future demand and offers some suggestions for PJM to plan ahead.

ACEG calls itself a nonprofit “focused on the need to expand, integrate and modernize the North American high-energy grid.” PJM oversees electrical grid operations in all or part of 13 states (including all of West Virginia) and Washington, D.C.

The report looks at projected retirements of generating plants and projected demand growth, and maps out “expected” and “high” scenarios. Expected is ACEG’s most likely estimate while high factors in accelerated electrification, more generating plant retirements and more clean energy demand.

ACEG projects that combining retirements and demand growth, by 2040 PJM would need somewhere from an additional 623 terawatt hours (TWh) to 798 TWh of generating capacity. The lower number is 76% of PJM’s current capacity; the higher number is nearly double its capacity.

The Dominion Post contacted PJM for comments on the report. At the end of business on Tuesday, PJM said they were still reviewing it and were unable to comment in time for deadline.

Some PJM numbers

PJM’s 2023 Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP) says it received more than 30 deactivation requests last year, for more than 5.8 gigawatts (1,000 GW make up 1 TW). It projects demand growth of 0.8% over the next 10 years.

PJM says public policy and fuel economics are driving a capacity shift. Its current fuel mix is 48.4% natural gas, 22.1% coal and 18.1% nuclear. But new interconnection requests reflect the new greener consciousness: 40% are solar – 2,200 projects in queue, totaling 109,397 megawatts. There are 180 wind projects in queue, totaling 22,012.6 MW. And there are 50 natural gas projects in queue, totaling 7,566 MW.

How many coal projects are in queue? Three, totaling 65 MW.

In West Virginia, coal makes up 89% of the state’s current capacity. But for interconnection requests as of Dec. 31 last year, solar projects made up 61.67%, followed by natural gas as 22.46% and wind at 5.01%. No new coal plant requests were in the picture.

ACEG numbers

ACEG details why its numbers differ from PJM’s. Put simply, it draws its projections from “publicly available data on estimates of load growth, modeled retirements, new generation, and clean energy demand from states, utilities, and large energy buyers in 2040.”

ACEG charts show that PJM’s current load is 813 TWh. PJM forecasts its 2030 load at 953 TWh, while ACEG puts it at either 1,019 TWh (expected) or 1,041 (high). The forecasts for 2040 are: PJM, 1,142; ACEG expected, 1,234; ACEG high, 1,336. So PJM projects its load growth at 40% while ACEG projects it from 52% to 64%.

Meanwhile, PJM project 40 GW of retirements by 2030. ACEG projects 57 to 61 GW of retirements by 2030 and 69 to 82 GW by 2040.

ACEG calls the load growth plus retirements a resource gap: from 348 to 395 TWh by 2030; 624 to 798 TWh by 2040.

ACEG notes that PJM has updated its planning methods.

“There is interest in more proactive long-term planning in PJM, including from the RTO [regional transmission organization, PJM] itself,” the report says. “The Organization of PJM States requested PJM develop more holistic and proactive transmission planning. PJM has recognized this need, and in response initiated the Long-Term Regional Transmission Planning (LTRTP) process.”

Through this LTRTP, PJM has advanced transmission planning including convening interested parties for workshops and proposing transmission planning manual changes. “However, the process is still early and it is not yet clear how reforms will be implemented once the new LTRTP process is underway.”

ACEG said it hopes its report will demonstrate for PJM that there is better data available for a more robust planning process. “While there is no singular right way to plan, there are better and worse ways.”

ACEG offers several suggestions for PJM’s planning.

One, improve estimates of electrification through surveys of utilities and large customers, and of state and local governments on their demand-side and supply-side policies.

Two, plan more proactively for retirements. Along with aiding planning, “it can also reduce overall costs for consumers by avoiding costly ‘reliability must run’ agreements for plants that would otherwise retire.”

Three, run economic capacity expansion models along with production cost modeling to ensure the optimal buildout of new generation and transmission while delivering the lowest system cost. “This is particularly necessary given the low cost of renewable energy and battery storage resources and new federal tax incentives affecting a variety of sources.”

And, ACEG urges, “The development of any new methodologies, best practices, or results should be done in clear communication with interested parties and allow ample opportunity for input from interested parties.”