Enjoy the Blackouts — They’re Coming!

by James A. Bacon

The graph above shows the key trend driving the major revisions in Dominion’s 2023 Integrated Resource Plan, which Steve Haner describes in the previous post. The projections of peak summer electricity demand, based on PJM Interconnection forecasts, has been consistently revised upward, taking a dramatic jump higher in the 2023 iteration. The massive shift largely reflects changes in methodology but it also incorporates data showing that demand is increasing more rapidly than previously projected.

The demand projections underpinning the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which showed electricity demand decreasing somewhat, are a fantasy. It is impossible to reach zero net-carbon in the Dominion service territory by 2045 without putting Virginia’s electric grid at risk of catastrophic failure.

PJM Interconnection, the regional electricity pool that Dominion belongs to, summarized the risks to reliability as follows:

  • The growth rate of electricity demand is likely to continue to increase from electrification coupled with the proliferation of high-demand data centers in the region due to the timing of resource availability, load growth, and new generation;
  • Thermal generators are retiring at a rapid pace throughout the PJM region due to government and private sector policies, as well as economics;
  • Retirements are at risk of outpacing the construction of new resources, due to a combination of industry forces, including siting and supply chain, whose long-term impacts are not fully known;
  • PJM’s interconnection queue is composed primarily of intermittent and limited-duration resources. Given the operating characteristics of these resources, multiple megawatts of these resources are needed to replace one megawatt of thermal generation.

Dominion doesn’t build its electric grid to accommodate average temperatures and average weather conditions. It must build a grid capable of handling extreme weather events. In that regard, the IRP addresses the 2022 winter storm Elliott.

A record-breaking plunge of 29 degrees over 12 hours surpassed the previous PJM record of a 22-degree drop during the 2014 Polar Vortex. As cold weather gripped the PJM region and power demand spiked, generators across the PJM system experienced high levels of forced generation outages—an unanticipated failure of all or part of a specific generator to perform. Approximately 70% of the outages were natural gas resources, likely driven by lack of fuel supply, lack of fuel purchases, or gas pipeline pressure challenges….

A disproportionate reliance on intra-day gas supplies is not sustainable during peak generation demand periods and highlights the importance of supplies or services that augment flowing gas supply. Options to reduce this risk include pipeline storage, liquified natural gas (“LNG”), peaking supply options, and on-site alternative fuels….

While the PJM system was able to maintain reliable operations throughout this event, operating reserves were very limited. Utilities in Tennessee and North Carolina experienced rolling blackouts.

Virginia’s energy policy, driven by environmentalists gripped by the fear of what Global Warming will do to the planet over the next 80 years, is to phase out all sources of fossil-fuel electric generation over the next 30 years or so.

Enjoy the blackouts. Make sure you have a backup generator for your home. Oh, sorry, environmentalists want to shut down the gas utilities that would power your generator. Well, then, make sure you have a bug-out pack so you can drive out of the electricity dead zone. Oh, environmentalists want to make us all buy electric cars… which we won’t be able to recharge when the grid is down. Well, at least make sure to buy a grill so you can eat your refrigerated meat before it goes bad. Oh, the enviro-zanies want to ban gas-fired grills, too!

Well, I suppose we can always use flint to start a campfire and cooking fire. Think of it as a chance to get back to nature. Environmentalists seem to be just fine with that. Just don’t cut down any trees.