My take: Does PJM have an answer for gridlock facing solar energy projects?


Good evening,

One story flying under the radar centers on the electric grid and how to deal with renewable energy projects. Recently regional grid manager PJM has received conditional approval from the feds as it sorts through a backlog of applications for new projects. The OK came from FERC, short for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

As solar became cost competitive with other forms of generation and states like Delaware passed alternative energy mandates, PJM has been inundated by applications. The result was a lengthy backlog and worries that some projects might be delayed until the end of the decade.

It marks a big change from the days when all grid operators had to worry about was connecting massive fossil fuel and nuclear plants to the grid.

More recently, applications for mainly solar power proposals have been piling up. In response, PJM, whose members include Delmarva Power, developed a First Ready, First Serve process that puts projects with financing and regulatory approvals toward the front of the line, with FERC giving its conditional OK. The approach makes sense since you don’t want projects without financing clogging the pipeline. PJM’s plan also allows for a degree of flexibility in approving alternative energy projects that do not require upgrades to the grid.

Not everyone is happy with PJM these days since it has the largest backlog among regional grid operators and, according to some critics, retains a bias toward fossil fuels. PJM denies the claim.

The need to upgrade the coastal grid was a factor in PJM keeping Delaware’s last coal-fired power plant, the Indian River site, near Millsboro open for a few more years. Meanwhile, two offshore wind projects off the coast of Maryland and Delaware are moving forward, with landfall sites for powerlines still in the works. Right now, Delaware seems to be the likely choice. Subsidies for operating an Indian River plant that has became uncompetitive with natural gas power will be borne by area ratepayers.

Additionally, grid operators are even more cautious after the near collapse of a largely unregulated grid in Texas, a state that chose not to join a regional system like PJM. Many factors led to the situation in Texas, including the lack of winterization of equipment. However, strains were apparent as electric power moved to metro areas from the wide open spaces of the Lone Star State.

In its recent update, PJM emphasized that its grid territory is prepared for a tough winter. That’s reassuring but it is also clear that a lot of work is needed in moving toward renewables becoming a bigger part of the electricity mix and in stepping up the expensive process of upgrading the grid.- Doug Rainey, chief content officer.