Clean Power Plan Means More Transmission

By Steve Herling – vice president, Planning

Few things are certain about what the power grid will look like when final plans are in place to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to lower carbon pollution from power plants. One thing is likely. New transmission will be needed to connect new power sources and to replace retiring resources.

Transmission is the variable that balances the equation between generation and customer load. In PJM, if you shut down power plants in one area and/or add new power sources in another area, electric transmission balances the equation of supply and demand.

Currently, states are deciding what their implementation of the Clean Power Plan will look like. Their plans are due in September to EPA. States can apply for up to a two-year extension.  Implementation needs to begin by 2020.

The Clean Power Plan calls for a nationwide 30-percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels. To accomplish this goal, states are looking at a variety of approaches, possibly including changes to their renewable energy goals. Many coal-fired generating plants are expected to close.

PJM already experienced a wave of power plant retirements when 20,000 megawatts left the system in recent years. The retirements came on the heels of the Mercury Air Toxics Standards regulation.

PJM dealt with the large power exodus by calling for transmission investment to re-route power to where it was needed and stabilize the system. PJM’s markets attracted investment in generation to replace the retiring units.

While state CPP compliance plans will result in generation retiring, their plans are likely to create new opportunities for renewable resources and additional gas-fired generation.

However, new megawatts on the system don’t necessarily balance the megawatts leaving. Geography plays a role. Ideal locations for wind plants are typically in the Midwest, farther away from the bigger populations in the east which need the power. Similarly, if offshore wind is developed, additional infrastructure will be needed to deliver it inland.

Once again, this is where transmission comes in, allowing for the reliable movement of power on the system. Transmission connects supply to distributors and to consumers.

Later this year we will know more about what the Clean Power Plan implementation plans will look like. Regardless of what the plans call for, PJM is responsible for maintaining a reliable power supply. This is why, no matter what shifts occur on the grid, with tools like transmission, PJM will balance the equation.