The Keystone State is a leading East Coast supplier of natural gas, coal, refined petroleum products and electricity to the nation. (vencav/Adobe Stock)

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By Danielle Smith

March 22, 2023   

new report found forced power outages in this winter’s extreme weather only added to “unreliability” in the fossil-fuel sector.

The PJM Interconnection is the electricity market including Pennsylvania and a dozen other states. Coal and gas plant owners’ failure to honor their reliability commitments may cost them as much as $2 billion in penalties.

Dennis Wamsted, energy analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and the report’s author, said some states saw rolling blackouts, and PJM used emergency measures to keep the lights on in Pennsylvania. Wamsted argued it all makes the case for renewable energy as an alternative.

“We are an organization that favors the transition to renewables,” Wamsted explained. “We think renewable energies like solar, wind, battery storage, are here today. They are reliable today, they are cheaper than fossil fuels, and they also don’t pollute the air, and solve, you know, a lot of our climate change problems.”

The report noted in the PJM system, with more than 32,000 megawatts of gas and 7,600 megawatts of coal capacity, were offline at the height of the cold, despite substantial capacity payments PJM pays generators to be available at critical times.

Wamsted pointed out hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were left without power because of the severe storm, and customers in the Carolinas and the seven states in the Tennessee Valley Authority service territory saw outages. He noted there were no rolling blackouts in the Keystone State, but notifications were sent to customers to prepare for the possibility of an outage.

“And so they didn’t get to the point where they actually had to turn people’s lights off,” Wamsted recounted. “They were getting close to that in the sort of a warning structure, and they were appealing to customers to, you know, cooperate and help reduce demand. And that actually does work. “

The report showed the problems associated with the outages prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to launch a joint inquiry into the events surrounding the December freeze and the performance of the nation’s bulk power system.