By: Aaron Martin

Following the recent bomb cyclone that brought frigid weather to the Northeast, a Senate panel reviewed how cold weather impacts the electric power system and barriers to improving reliability during a hearing on Tuesday.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from leaders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Department of Energy (DoE) the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), and ISO New England, among others.

“Federal law and policy must enable energy to be affordable, clean, diverse, and secure,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairwoman of the committee, said. “Today, we have an opportunity to look at how changes in the nation’s electric grid and the mix of primary electricity resources are stressing system reliability, and what federal changes may be necessary to address those stresses.”

Fielding questions about barriers to building new pipelines to bring in natural gas into Northeast states from the Marcellus Shale region rather than exporting it from Russia, ISO New England President, and CEO Gordon van Welie said the first challenge is finding a customer for a gas pipeline.

“The second issue is once you have a customer, then you have to confront the siting issue,” van Welie said. “And I’d say there’s a siting problem both in New England and in New York.”

PJM Interconnection President and CEO Andrew Ott pointed to the retirement of baseload nuclear and coal units as evidence of the important role a diverse fuel mix plays in grid reliability.

“From PJM’s experience, of course, we have a much bigger proportion of our total resource mix being coal and nuclear,” Ott said. “In fact, during this recent cold weather event, obviously more than half of the total supply was coal and nuclear. Certainly, we couldn’t survive without gas; we couldn’t survive without coal; we couldn’t survive without nuclear. We need them all in the moment. And I think the key, and what we’re focused on, is each of these bring to the table reliability characteristics. Each of these was online when we needed them.”

Murkowski said that “many lessons were learned” during the 2014 polar vortex, but the fundamental challenges of electric and gas infrastructure have not been addressed.

“It’s often very easy to say we need to have this diverse portfolio, but if the diversity doesn’t give you the security of access, you fail when it comes to your resiliency,” Murkowski said. “We can have all the supply that we need, but if we can’t move it, it doesn’t get us anywhere. Alaska is the poster child for that. We have extraordinary resources, but our challenge has always been moving that to the market.”



Senate panel reviews electric grid reliability, cold weather performance following bomb cyclone

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