March 5, 2019 Read More →

Shale gas slows renewable energy adoption in PJM service territory

Energy News Network:

In the contest between competing energy sources to produce electricity in the United States, select regions of the U.S. — especially windy Texas and the Great Plains, as well as the sunny Pacific Coast — are tilting to renewable technologies.

But in cloudy and cold rural West Virginia counties surrounding this small city, and in the 12 neighboring mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states served by PJM — the nation’s largest electrical transmission grid operator — the confrontation between renewable technology and fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, is a mismatch. And it is anticipated to stay that way for at least the next two decades, maybe longer.

Of the more than 180,000 megawatts of installed generation capacity available from PJM’s members, less than 6 percent is produced by wind or solar technology. Nationally about 15 percent of generating capacity comes from these two renewable resources.

Coal-fired power, counted on a decade ago to generate over 40 percent of the power in the PJM service area, has fallen to less than one-third. Natural gas, meanwhile, which was 25 percent of generating capacity a decade ago, is nearing 40 percent. Nuclear power accounts for 19 percent. PJM executives anticipate that a decade from today solar and wind capacity will still not exceed 10 percent of generating capacity. A sizable portion of that, PJM executives say, will come from distributed rooftop solar stations.

Economic ramifications of the development and ecological risks — especially of the hydrofracking technology that makes it possible — are the source of considerable public disagreement across this mid-Atlantic region. There is, however, no question about the effects of gas production on electricity generation. PJM, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and charged with managing an 84,000-mile transmission network across all of six eastern states and parts of seven others in the Midwest and South, is supervising an electrical transmission network fueled principally by natural gas that looks considerably different than what the grid operator anticipated a decade ago.

“It’s an inverse relationship. The potential for wind and solar generating capacity tends to be less in our footprint than in other regions,” said Mike Bryson, PJM’s vice president for operations. In the meantime, natural gas is abundant through much of PJM’s area. “The potential generating capacity for natural gas is high,” Bryson said. “There also is a geophysical dynamic playing into electrical generation here. A combined cycle 1,200-megawatt natural gas-fired plant takes two years to build and 40 people to run it. It’s sitting right on top of shale wells. Developers are looking for natural gas liquids and are practically giving away the gas. The cost of operations is sufficiently low they are competing with subsidized renewable generation.”

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