Grid operator PJM said Monday it had completed a reliability study of FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.'s coal and diesel plants headed for closure, finding that the loss of 4,017 megawatts would not disrupt service. In April, PJM confirmed that FirstEnergy could also close about 4 gigawatts of nuclear capacity without affecting reliability, bringing total retirements to 8 gigawatts of capacity.
When FirstEnergy notified PJM in August of its plans to close the plants, the company said the decision was “due to a market environment that fails to adequately compensate generators for the resiliency and fuel-security attributes that the plants provide.”
According to PJM, the grid will be just fine without them. “Any potential reliability impacts will be addressed by a combination of already planned baseline transmission upgrades and the completion of new baseline upgrades,” PJM said in a statement on the study. PJM will discuss the results of the assessment, which have not been made public, at an October 11 meeting of the Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee.
The grid operator is also currently at work on a large study, which it expects to release in “the next few months,” that assesses the grid’s ability to handle extended outages from fuel disruptions. PJM will also analyze whether and how to incorporate the value of fuel security into PJM markets.
For now, though, the grid operator said it feels it is dealing with a secure system.
“The PJM system has adequate power supplies and healthy reserves in operation today, and resources are more diverse than they have ever been,” the grid operator said in its statement. “Competitive wholesale power markets have produced a reliable grid at the...lowest reasonable cost, while also attracting investment in new, efficient generation resources. That is an important benefit for the people in our region that helps the regional economy thrive.”
While PJM is getting along just fine, Don Moul, president of FirstEnergy generation companies and chief nuclear officer, said the company is facing the “insurmountable challenge” of a market that doesn’t properly value its fossil fuel and nuclear plants.
In March, the now-bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions solicited emergency support from the Trump administration for its coal and nuclear power plants.
At the time, FirstEnergy claimed closing its struggling power plants would disrupt grid operations overseen by PJM. FirstEnergy President Donald Schneider said inaction could lead to “significant negative outcomes for the approximately 65 million people living and working within the PJM footprint.”
In total, FirstEnergy plans to close three nuclear plants in 2020 and 2021, three coal facilities in 2021 and 2022 and one diesel oil facility in 2021. All the facilities are located in either Pennsylvania or Ohio.
This summer the Trump administration directed the Energy Secretary to work on “immediate steps” to keep coal and nuclear plants online. A leaked memo also detailed the administration’s plan to use two laws to help support ailing power plants. But so far, no official policy has emerged.