Credit: Jim Bowen / Flickr / Creative Commons

This year’s session follows a report from PJM that some fear could be used to justify coal and nuclear subsidies.

Clean energy advocates say Ohio lawmakers should not try to use a new report from grid operator PJM to pass subsidies for aging coal or nuclear power plants during the lame duck session after Election Day.

“We could really do some damage in the lame duck session making some policy decisions that have a ton of unintended consequences,” said Trish Demeter, Vice President of Energy – Policy for the Ohio Environmental Council.

Multiple pending bills in Ohio would attempt to prop up power plants that are struggling to compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. Action on the bills has been tabled for a while, and clean energy advocates said they hope lawmakers don’t use the PJM report to revisit the proposals.

PJM says its report is about fuel security. In fact, its analysis focuses on fossil fuel supply vulnerabilities, especially during peak winter periods. Winter months were a particular concern, because heating requirements during extended cold snaps drive higher demand for natural gas.  

The report looked at more than 300 possible scenarios. For at least the next five years, the PJM grid would remain reliable “even in an extreme scenario, such as an extended period of severe weather combined with high customer demand and a fuel supply disruption,” the report says.

If anything, PJM’s November 1 report “once again destroys the key argument of bailout seekers, showing that uneconomic coal and nuclear generators are simply not needed,” said Dick Munson, director of Midwest clean energy for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Beyond five years, the report found there might be concerns in the event of an extended cold period with other factors in “extreme but plausible” scenarios. However, PJM did not calculate the likelihood of those scenarios, nor did it explain how adding new electricity resources would affect the risks.

“The system will remain reliable and fuel-secure, but we will see some reserve shortages,” said PJM Vice President of Operations Mike Bryson. For example, the regional grid might “dip below our 10-minute reserve for some hours during that 14-day period.”

If that happened, however, the grid operator would prefer market-based solutions. “PJM is fuel neutral,” said PJM President and CEO Andy Ott. “We don’t advocate any particular type of generation.”

It’s unclear whether Ohio lawmakers will try to push pending energy bills through before their current terms end in December. “But lame duck is one of the situations where we really have to be ready for anything,” Demeter said.

House Bill 114 would further weaken the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. It passed the Ohio House last year. The bill is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which last acted on it in June.

“We should be doing more clean energy, not less,” said Dan Sawmiller, who heads NRDC’s climate and clean energy program in Ohio. Even if there were any concerns about the “highly unlikely scenarios that PJM laid out, it just shows once again how policies to support renewable development can help to protect against concerns stemming from fuel-dependent resources,” he added.   

“Fuel security” has been a theme in efforts by FirstEnergy, Murray Energy and the Trump administration to shield coal or nuclear plants from competition.

“Our biggest concern would be that what PJM does with the fuel security study could be (used to justify) putting the thumb on the scale for particular resources — be it fossil or nuclear,” said attorney John Moore, who heads the Sustainable FERC Project for NRDC’s climate and clean energy program. That could preclude more low-carbon resources in the future and limit the economic availability of clean energy in the wholesale market, he warned.

“Fuel security is a biased term,” said Grid Strategies President Rob Gramlich. He prefers the term “winter peak energy.” After all, one megawatt-hour is the same as another when it comes to whether the lights stay on, regardless of whether it comes from fuel or renewables. Wind energy “does very well” during winter peak conditions, and other forms of renewable energy also work in winter, he added.

Kathi is the author of 25 books and more than 600 articles, and writes often on science and policy issues. In addition to her journalism career, Kathi is an alumna of Harvard Law School and has spent 15 years practicing law. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. Kathi covers the state of Ohio.