November 8, 2023 - This Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is holding its annual technical conference on grid reliability. Of particular interest is the attention FERC and its expert witnesses will give to examining the impact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) so-called Clean Power Plan 2.0 will have on reliability.
FERC is digging into reliability at a remarkably precarious moment. One congressional oversight hearing after another this year has exposed the extraordinary concern – and frustration – with the rapidly eroding reliability of the nation’s power supply and the policy and regulatory decisions driving the collapse.
Even FERC Chairman Willie Phillips, the Biden administration’s pick to lead the agency, told Congress, “I am extremely concerned about the pace of retirements we are seeing of generators which are needed for reliability.”
And he’s right to be so concerned. One reliability assessment after another has found the nation’s bulk power system in crisis. Once thought to be isolated regional problems in California and then Texas, blackouts and the near-constant threat of emergency operating conditions have spread to nearly every corner of the country.
Last Christmas, the PJM grid, the nation’s largest and a long-time energy exporter, was pushed to the very brink of catastrophe, with operators begging consumers to conserve power to avoid rolling outages. If that acute crisis was a wakeup call, PJM since projecting that it’s likely to see peak power demand eclipse supply by 2030, with energy policy driving the shortfall, has fully tripped the alarm.
And it’s in this deeply concerning context, with so much essential dispatchable generating capacity already lost, that EPA has rolled out a blitz of rulemakings – headlined by the so-called Clean Power Plan 2.0 – that are designed to supercharge coal and natural gas power plant closures. Fully 60% of the nation’s electricity generating capacity is in EPA’s crosshairs.
Instead of relief or support for a system under incredible stress, the Biden administration seems determined to break the grid.
Remarkably, despite pleas from the nation’s grid operators, utilities, reliability regulators and policymakers, EPA has not engaged with FERC or the North American Electric Reliability Corporation in any meaningful way to understand the reliability impacts of its rules, much less their cumulative effect.
In fact, FERC commissioner James Danly rebuked EPA for claiming otherwise, imploring the agency to extend the comment period on the Clean Power Plan 2.0 to wait for this week’s reliability conference to inform the record. He wrote, “while the Proposed Rule could, by itself, significantly impair reliability, the Commission must also consider the Proposed Rule amidst the numerous other public policies that increasingly jeopardize the reliable operation of the bulk electric system.” He concluded, “until the record of FERC’s technical conference is submitted in the docket, the EPA will lack the record evidence necessary to make an informed decision.”
Despite his request, and additional oversight from members of Congress asking EPA to fully solicit FERC’s expertise, EPA closed the comment period and has charged forward.
FERC’s technical conference on reliability has now arrived and with it, hopefully, a key moment to hold EPA to account.
As the National Mining Association urged in its formal comments to FERC and as NMA’s president and CEO, Rich Nolan, wrote in a recent op-ed, “It’s past time the nation’s reliability regulators address the cumulative impact of EPA’s rulemakings and make the Biden administration answer to the danger posed by its regulatory onslaught.” He added, “the reliability of the nation’s power supply hangs in the balance. If EPA is unwilling to change course and recognize the threat posed by its rulemakings, FERC, Congress and the states must step in.”
There is not a moment to lose.