Nuclear Energy Institute report explores potential blackout threats

Published on June 18, 2018 by Kevin Randolph

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A recent Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) study examines how a gas pipeline disruption could lead to extended electricity service disruption in the areas served by the PJM Interconnection if nuclear power plant retirements continue.

The report, conducted by ICF, explored an event involving the loss of approximately 27 gigawatts (GW) of gas-fired generation, 18 GW of which served the PJM Mid-Atlantic area.

If combined with the loss of a similar amount of nuclear capacity due to retirement, approximately 22 percent of PJM service area’s load could be put at risk of being shed in the highest load hours, the report showed. During a gas pipeline disruption lasting 60 days, the PJM service area could experience load losses for more than 200 hours across approximately 34 days, ICF found.

Over 45 percent of the 18 GW of impacted gas-fired capacity would have no backup fuel capability and immediately become unavailable during the event, according to the study.

The study noted that preserving nuclear power plants would mitigate the risk of electricity service disruptions.

“The nuclear capacity that remains online is able to offset the gas generation impacted by the infrastructure event, resulting in load being served in all hours over the 60-day period,” the report said.

Last year, Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC) to issue a rule requiring organized markets to develop rules that compensate “fuel-secure” electricity generators, such as nuclear plants, for their resiliency attributes. FERC declined to adopt the proposed rulemaking.

FERC then opened a new proceeding directing regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to evaluate grid resilience and recommend actions if necessary. The ICF report was submitted to FERC as part of this proceeding.

Last month, 10,000 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity did not clear PJM Interconnection’s annual capacity auction.

NEI Senior Director of Policy Development Matt Crozat adds that mounting evidence points to serious underlying flaws in how electricity markets are set up.

“This new study underscores nuclear power’s vital role in ensuring a reliable and resilient supply of electricity,” NEI Senior Director of Policy Development Matt Crozat said. “Policymakers and administrators interested in continuing and strengthening the resilience of America’s grid should act promptly to ensure nuclear power plants are fairly compensated in the marketplace for the reliable, emission-free electricity they provide.”