Coal Still Rollin'

Despite the reports of its impending death, coal-fired electricity generation is not leaving anytime soon. Check out this graph that PJM released today:

Rolling Coal.JPG

It shows what technologies we will be using to produce electricity five years from now in 2023. Notice that oil, wind, hydro and solar all stay about the same: just over 10% of the total generation fleet.

Nuclear drops slightly from just under 20% today to maybe 17-18% in 2023. Quick guess is that accounts for closing Exelon's Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. I don't believe anything else is decommissioning in PJM before then.

Gas increases significantly from ~40% today to more than 45% then. PJM has said it can remain reliable with upwards of 86% gas, but that's still a pretty big number.

Finally, look at coal: Yes, it'll be down from ~31% to about 28%. But 30% is still a lot of megawatt-hours.

One final point... these numbers may not be guaranteed, but they're pretty close. PJM holds its capacity auctions three years in advance, so the auction that happened last May was for the 2020/21 delivery year. The Base Residual Auction (BRA) this May will be for 2021/22, so we'll get a more precise number then.

An Ode to Toby Keith, Or Why Electricity Grids Should Stop Talking and Do Something

While transcribing notes and recordings from an electricity market's conference on grid reliability, I was inspired to write the following. Maybe it's harsh, but I can't stand hearing people having discussions about how they should discuss stuff:

Glen Thomas of the GT Power Group and PJM Power Providers (better known as P3) called PJM CEO Andy Ott “the great prophet” at PJM’s Grid 20/20 conference on system reliability in April 2017. At the risk of alienating a whole stakeholder sector, I have to quibble with Mr. Thomas’ appellation. Andy may be a great prophet for some people’s money, but he’s not MY great prophet.

That title belongs to Toby Keith. No matter your stance on country music, you must admit Mr. Keith has penned a few humdingers that get toes tapping in even the most unlikely of places. To wit: there’s a Keith-branded “I Love This Bar” franchise in the entertainment complex around the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. Doesn’t get much more blue-state than that.

So yes, Mr. Keith has an impressive catalogue, but arguably his best hit might be “A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action.” You’ve probably heard it, even if you’re sure you haven’t. It’s one of those catchy, upbeat, zero-offense tunes that get heavy rotation in places that cultivate a “fun-but-family-friendly” image.

Perhaps PJM should add it to the musical interludes in its stakeholder meetings. Amongst the Grid 20/20’s three panels, while very few solutions or success stories were mentioned, there were multiple references to more conversations, more discussions, more talk.

In fact, Bill Berg, the Eastern RTO director for Exelon Generation, said that was his “only firm, concrete solution” for ensuring reliability. Direct quote: “The only way we can ensure reliability is through conversations like this: What’s happening, how do we need to change, how do we need to adapt and are we comfortable with where things are going?”

Perhaps Berg was being careful to specifically not mention markets in his solution because his employer has repeatedly bypassed organized markets to secure ratepayer funding for resources those markets deemed uneconomic. The precedent set in Illinois and New York is now being copied by others in New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In that way, it’s fair to wonder if maybe Exelon has been playing Toby Keith in its collective headphones because it is doing just as he recommends: less talk; more action. What that means for the authenticity of Berg’s comments is up for debate, but this much is true: Exelon has defined what it needs and acted to secure it.

Perhaps it’s time for the rest of the stakeholders and PJM itself to do the same.

P.S.: Thanks for reading this far. If you like this article, please get the hashtag #NotMyProphet trending on Twitter.

All the best,


The best energy alternative

I wrote this guest essay a few years ago for the Canadaigua Daily Messenger in upstate New York. It was in response to another guest essay, published a week or so before, that opposed local oil and gas development without suggesting realistic alternatives. Because I'm not referencing it here, I've removed the beginning section that mentioned the original essay, but the rest is pretty straightforward: the best energy alternative (as with most consumable resources) is usually the locally produced one. The essay begins below:

"Our society demands cheap energy and will get it somewhere. We'll also do our best — whether we choose to accept this truth or not — to distance ourselves from the inevitable negative impacts.

Whether it's strip mining and mountaintop removal in Appalachia, addressing nuclear issues in New York State or any of the numerous global impacts of renewables, every energy source has downsides. We are indeed risking the protection of our health and natural resources, as Mr. Freedman so rightly warns, but only when fearmongers like him choose to focus on a few of those downsides from some of our energy alternatives and ignore the rest.

The true advantage of domestic energy production is that it's done domestically. We can watch it, regulate it, understand its needs, impacts and benefits and actively work to harness it to our communal benefit. We can be confident about exactly how the energy we use to turn on our lights is created, and we can rest assured that, since it was produced locally, it used the least amount of resources possible to reach us.

We can't do that with sources such as wind and solar that require resource inputs like rare earth metals, which are largely acquired from poorly managed, environmentally disastrous mines in Third World (ed: "developing" would have been more appropriate) regions. Even people unhappy with our domestic regulatory frameworks must agree our regulators are vastly superior to almost all of their foreign counterparts.

The same concepts form the backbone of progressive consumer movements that demand locally and responsibly produced products. Yet those are often the same people most aggressively campaigning against common sense, world-class oversight and American industry when it comes to energy production."