Thursday, April 18, 2024

Guest Essay: Claims That Only Thermal Energy Resources Can Ensure Electric Grid Reliability Don’t Pass The Laugh Test

By John Quigley,
Kleinman Center For Energy Policy, University of Pennsylvania

The challenge of decarbonizing the electricity grid while ensuring its reliability is acute in Pennsylvania.

So is the level of misdirection in the policy debate.

The Commonwealth is the nation’s third-largest electricity producer, and exports more of it than any other state. Currently, 59% of its electricity generation is fueled by natural gas, which has almost entirely displaced coal in the state’s energy mix. 

Only about 4% of in-state generation comes from renewable energy.

The natural gas industry and its advocates would like to keep it that way. They’ve met proposals to grow zero-carbon energy with exaggerated concerns about grid reliability—and claim that only burning more stuff can fix it.

Really? Let’s first take a quick look at some background.

PJM expects electricity demand to grow 2.3% per year over the next ten years. Data centers are seen as major drivers of that increase, but there are rapid advances in chip design that will reduce energy consumption. 

And there’s much more juice to be squeezed out of energy efficiency across the economy. Panic about growing demand is premature.

On the supply side, as much as 30% of the current “thermal resource” capacity in PJM “could” retire by 2030. Time will tell.

 PJM’s interconnection queue—proposed new generation projects—stands at 1.6 times the installed capacity of the region’s power plant fleet. 

And 97% of that queue is comprised of renewables and storage. Typically, less than 15% of those projects will actually get built, and it will take several years for those that do to come online. 

But the composition of the queue shows where the market is headed.

Now, to the assertion that burning more stuff is the only way to ensure reliability.

Put aside for a moment the fact that, according to PJM, solar plus battery plants can have higher reliability values than gas plants

The reality is that the dominance of natural gas in Pennsylvania’s power sector actually presents serious risks to reliability.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has found that natural gas-fired power plants are “particularly susceptible” to failure during extreme weather events—which are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate disruption.

UCS looked at five winter storms over the past decade that threatened grid reliability and found that, in each case, gas plant failures were the primary cause of energy system disruptions. 

More recently, gas power plants comprised over half the forced outages in PJM during Winter Storm Gerri in January, 2024.

UCS also found that high summer temperatures and droughts can reduce the output of gas plants or cause them to shut down. 

They recommend that state regulators not approve any new gas plants “except in the extremely limited cases when there are no viable clean energy solutions for grid reliability,” and that no new gas plants should be approved in environmental justice communities.

Similarly, this policy brief says that state regulators should be skeptical of building new gas-fired power plants and should instead prioritize energy efficiency and clean energy with storage. 

Indeed, a new study finds that solar and wind availability is often elevated during weather extremes, enabling those resources to meet the higher energy demands during those events and actually improve reliability.

Finally, this essential Kleinman Center white paper argues that the biggest threat to grid reliability isn’t the rise of renewables but the way the grid is governed—by multiple agencies and entities, with little coordination, and less public oversight.

It results in policies that favor building new fossil fuel resources or financially propping up existing ones. 

It impedes clean energy development, sound transmission planning, and deployment of grid-enhancing technologies, reconductoring, and other advanced grid solutions.

Gaslighting about gas harms Pennsylvania and the planet. 

Increasing zero-carbon energy requirements and demanding grid governance reforms are the energy and reliability policies Pennsylvania urgently needs.

John Quigley is a senior fellow at the Kleinman Center and previously served on the Center’s Advisory Board. He served as Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection and of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

(Reprinted from the Kleinman Center website.)

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- PA Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - April 13 to 19 - Oil & Gas Well Owners Actively, Repeatedly Ignoring DEP Notices Of Violation; 12 Abandoned Wells  [PaEN]

-- Attorney General Henry Files Charges Against Shell Falcon Pipeline For Failure To Report Drilling Issues That Caused Industrial Waste, Potential for Water Pollution  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices, Opportunities To Comment - April 20 [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posted 74 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In April 20 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]  

Related Articles This Week - Gas:

-- Senate Hearing: The Case For An Immediate, Total Ban On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- Senate Hearing: Penn State Expert: ‘No More Research That Needs To Be Done’ To Justify A Ban On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater  [PaEN] 

-- Senate Hearing: First-Hand Account Of Health, Environmental Impacts From Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater - ‘Inhaling Oil & Gas Wastewater 24-Hours A Day’  [PaEN]

-- Senate Hearing: 3.5 Million Gallons Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Dumped On PA Public Roads Since DEP’s ‘Moratorium’ On Dumping Started 6 Years Ago  [PaEN] 

-- Senate Hearing: DEP Still Evaluating The Data On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater; Asks Public To Report Road Dumping  [PaEN]

-- April 25 Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Advisory Council Meeting Features Discussion Of Dumping Wastewater On Public Roads; Well Plugging Grant Programs; Regs. Limiting Methane Pollution From Wells  [PaEN] 

-- PA Marcellus Shale Gas Coalition Doubles-Down On Support For Exporting PA Natural Gas To China, Our Economic, Military Competitor  [PaEN] 

-- Bloomberg: Europe’s Demand For LNG Gas Set To Peak In 2024 As Crisis Fades

-- Commonwealth Court Affirms EHB Ruling Sen. Muth Lacks Standing To Appeal A DEP Permit For Eureka Resources Oil & Gas Wastewater Treatment Facility  [PaEN] 

-- Protect PT Hosting April 30 Webinar On How Your Municipality Can Protect Itself From The Dangers Of Oil & Gas Wastewater Injection Wells  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Holds May 2 Hearing On Water Use Requests, Including 7 Shale Gas Drilling Uses In Lycoming, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wyoming Counties  [PaEN] 

-- Guest Essay: Claims That Only Thermal Energy Resources Can Ensure Electric Grid Reliability Don’t Pass The Laugh Test - By John Quigley, Kleinman Center For Energy Policy, University of Pennsylvania  [PaEN] 

NewsClips - Gas:

-- Environmental Health Project: Gov. Shapiro’s Record On Shale Gas And Health - A Look At The Grand Jury Recommendations One Year In 

-- The Allegheny Front - Reid Frazier: Attorney General Files Criminal Charges Against Shell Falcon Pipeline On Whistleblower Reports Over Pipeline Spills

-- PA Capital-Star: Democratic State Senators Want To End Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater

-- PA Senators Call For Ban On Spraying Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater On Roads

-- Post-Gazette - Anya Litvak: PA Oil & Gas Wastewater Treatment/Disposal Company Was Building A Conglomerate; What’s Left Is A Pile Of Waste  

-- Warren Times Editorial: Government Too Quick To Use Taxpayer Money To Plug Abandoned Conventional Wells

-- Chesapeake Bay Journal - Ad Crable: Power, Pipeline Corridors Becoming Wildlife Habitat 

-- The Guardian: Carbon Dioxide Pipeline Leak Exposes Carbon Capture Safety Gaps In Louisiana April 3

-- The Energy Age Blog: PA Oil & Gas Well Terminology From DEP

[Posted: April 18, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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