Last December, residents of West Virginia and 12 other states were in danger of seeing their Christmas lights go dark. PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid for 13 northeastern states, warned that a severe cold spell was draining power supplies and rolling blackouts were possible.
Fortunately, we made it through with the lights still on, and one of the reasons was the coal-fired Pleasants Power Station along the Ohio River in Pleasants County cranked up to 91 percent capacity. That was a critical contribution to the grid by a power station that was just a few months away from shutting down.
Plant operator Energy Harbor wants to go green. It notified PJM last year that it planned to shut down the plant as of June 1, 2023. However, that deadline came and went because Energy Harbor notified PJM that the plant should not be retired just yet. As our Brad McElhinny reported, the plant is going into “mothball” status, which means it won’t be producing power, but it will be maintained.
Pleasants County Commission President Jay Powell, who has fought tirelessly to keep the plant operating, believes this is a win since another company—Omnis Fuel Technologies—is interested in taking over the plant and keeping it operational by converting it from coal- to hydrogen-powered.
On the local level, this would be good news for Pleasants County and the 150 people who work at the plant. However, it would also be important for grid stability. Just yesterday, PJM President and CEO Manu Asthana testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Chaired by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin), where he raised concerns about the reliability of the grid.
“New generation in the queue is largely intermittent, so we need multiple megawatts to replace one megawatt of retiring generation,” he testified. “And new generation is coming online slower than anticipated.”
Asthana said state and federal governments should adopt policies that “slow down the retirement or restriction of existing generation until replacement generation is deployed and operational at scale.” That means the country needs to pause its rush to retire existing coal-fired power plants.
The Biden administration is pushing out a policy through the EPA that will shut down coal and natural gas power plants in the next 10-15 years unless they can figure out an economical way to sequester carbon emissions.
Asthana told the committee that instead of “date certain retire or comply” orders, government policies should hold off on retirements until “adequate replacement capacity is installed and operating.”
Climate change is real, but so are threats to grid reliability due to increased demand and traditional power plant closures. Even climate change activists should realize how much public support they will lose when there are rolling blackouts because intermittent generation cannot keep up with demand.