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PJM Leaning on More NatGas-Fired Power to Meet Winter Electricity Demand

By: Jamison Cocklin |

With a colder winter expected in its service territory, PJM Interconnection said Wednesday its members are ready with “sufficient resources” to meet this year’s forecasted peak electricity demand of 135,526 MW.

A weak La Nina weather pattern anchored in the tropical Pacific is expected to create a warmer-than-normal winter, but it’s still likely to be a cooler season than the last two winters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently upgraded its La Nina “watch” in early November to an “advisory,” practically assuring cooler temperatures in the northern United States and wetter conditions from the Rockies to the Great Lakes in parts of PJM’s territory.

PJM serves 65 million people in all or parts of 13 states and Washington DC, where it manages the power grid in a region that includes parts of the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Appalachia and the Great Lakes. PJM’s David Souder, director of operations planning, said in October the company’s ongoing efforts to better coordinate natural gas delivery and power generation should have an impact this winter.

That’s important as PJM’s system has increasingly seen an increase in natural gas-firedpower generation in recent years, driven largely by the low prices created by Appalachian shale production. From 2010-2016, the system was 33% coal-fired, 33% natural gas, 18% nuclear and 6% renewables. That’s compared to 2005, when coal and nuclear resources generated 91% of the electricity on the PJM system.

Southward shifts in the polar vortex caused unusually cool weather in August. If the trend continues, PJM said it would need to be ready for riskier periods of arctic cold. Precipitation, the grid operator added, is also expected to be above average in the Great Lakes region.

“Mild or severe weather, no matter what the winter brings, we are prepared and expect to have more than enough power available to meet consumers’ demand for electricity,” said Vice President of Operations Michael Bryson.

Each year, PJM analyzes expected demand for electricity, weather predictions and other factors to develop its forecast for the season’s operations. PJM also said it has worked with generators on cold weather preparedness, fuel inventories, resource testing and emergency drill procedures to guarantee uninterrupted power this winter.

The grid operator said it expects to have 184,926 MW of electric resources to meet this year’s forecasted demand, which is higher than last year’s peak load of 130,689 MW. PJM’sall-time winter peak record was set on February 20, 2015 at 143,295 MW.