Trey Smoyer
Senior Contracts & Pricing Analyst II
Freedom Energy

Published: September 19, 2023

As we enjoy the warmth of the end of summer, it is easy to forget the biting cold of the 2022-2023 winter season and the disruptive Winter Storm Elliot that swept across multiple states, leaving a trail of challenges for PJM (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland) operators and residents alike. Let us delve into the developments and strategic initiatives that unfolded after this formidable weather event.

A Frosty Surprise: Winter Storm Elliot’s Unplanned Grid Challenge

On December 24, 2022, as households prepared to celebrate the holiday season, PJM faced an unexpected curveball from Winter Storm Elliot. The temperature plunged lower than anticipated, sending demand soaring. PJM swiftly called for the curtailment of exports and requested consumers to reduce their electricity usage, actions aimed at preserving grid stability until December 25.

Simultaneously, approximately 6,000 MW of renewable and nuclear generation remained offline, a puzzling situation for which PJM has yet to disclose the specific reasons. The confluence of these factors set the stage for a grid crisis.

Grid Under Duress: A Perfect Storm of Challenges

As the morning unfolded, the grid faced a series of challenges. Low pond levels for pumped storage hydro (dams) made refilling impossible due to unprecedented early demand. Damaged transmission lines, delayed generator startups, and the impact of FERC’s Order 787 allowing interruptions to gas supply further complicated the situation. At one point, an astounding 47,000 MW of the generation fleet was unavailable during the morning peak.

Adding to the complexity, demand reached unusually high levels for that time of year, reaching 129,000 MW compared to the all-time winter peak of 143,000 MW on February 25, 2015. Winter Storm Elliot’s reach across the northern part of the country exacerbated the situation, leading PJM to issue a NERC EEA2 emergency alert. The only viable solution was to cut electricity temporarily until generators could stabilize demand. An emergency order from the Department of Energy (DOE) temporarily waived emission restrictions, allowing crucial generators to remain online.

PJM’s Path Forward: Strengthening Grid Resilience

In the aftermath of Winter Storm Elliot, PJM has been dedicated to refining its Capacity and Reliability modeling. Plans were unveiled to delay capacity auctions for 2025-2029 to incorporate potential market reforms, including a seasonal capacity market design featuring summer and winter seasons.

FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) approved PJM’s revised auction schedule, moving it from June 2023 to June 2024, with subsequent auctions at six-month intervals. The grid operator is also enhancing risk modeling for resource adequacy to better understand generator reliability in adverse conditions, improve weather forecasting adjustments, and enhance demand forecasting.

PJM is expediting the upgrade of transmission lines with a FERC-approved fast-track plan to bring new generation assets online swiftly. The transition from a first-come, first-served model to a first-ready, first-served approach is expected to enhance grid efficiency.

Resolving the Fallout: Fines Agreement and Future Plans

On September 5, 2023, PJM reached an agreement on fines for generators that could not provide the 155,750 MW needed to cover the 135,000 MW demand spike during Winter Storm Elliot. This $1.8 billion settlement, overseen by FERC, remains confidential but is set to become public later this month.

By the end of 2024, PJM anticipates approximately 62,000 MW of new generation to be connected to the grid, with another 100,000 MW to follow each year until 2026, as older generators reach the end of their lifecycle.

As we navigate increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, grid reliability remains a paramount concern. PJM’s commitment to bolstering grid infrastructure and integrating new generation assets signals a dedication to a more resilient and responsive grid. Only time will tell if these measures will shield us from future Winter Storm Elliot, or if Winter Storm Elliot is just the beginning of a new norm in grid management. Stay tuned for updates on PJM’s ongoing journey toward grid excellence.

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