2020 in Review: Planning Prepares for Evolving Needs

PJM Focused on Improving the Interconnection Process, Working With States

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In 2020, PJM steered its planning priorities toward the emerging needs of the future grid and removing barriers for the growing number of renewable resources and others seeking to interconnect.

PJM received 970 new service requests in 2020, more than double the 470 projects proposed just two years before in 2018.

Before grid connection is approved, projects must undergo a substantial review process that determines their impact to the bulk electric system and whether any transmission improvements are required. The burgeoning cohort of new, smaller, predominantly solar resources applying to connect to the system has dramatically increased the number of interconnection requests, as well as the resulting interconnection studies performed by PJM as part of the review process.

In 2020, PJM issued on-time over 750 Feasibility Studies (more than the previous four years combined) and over 500 System Impact Studies (more than the previous five years combined).

The proliferation of new interconnection requests spurred PJM to embark on a series of stakeholder workshops to explore how to improve the current interconnection process.

 In the first two workshops, with two more to follow in 2021, PJM detailed the interconnection process, reviewed its history and purpose, outlined FERC policies and invited a wide range of perspectives from stakeholders.

The third Interconnection Process Workshop is scheduled for Jan. 29, when PJM will respond to feedback shared by 21 presenters plus additional written comments from stakeholders. The fourth workshop, on March 5, will focus on next steps.

This engagement with stakeholders reflects PJM’s commitment to ensuring that the interconnection process evolves in step with industry participants’ needs to efficiently manage queue volume, provide cost certainty, incent shared upgrades and accommodate public policy.

Helping States Advance Clean Energy Goals

Another major driving factor shaping PJM’s planning approach in 2020 was the advancement of state energy goals.

More and more, states are driving energy policy – and the states in the PJM footprint are very different, each with its own priorities. In 2020, PJM established a dedicated State Policy Solutions Group to make available PJM’s expertise in planning, operations and markets to assist states in the implementation of state energy policies and also the formation of policy when requested.

This work is intended to integrate state policies while maintaining the integrity of a market that saves consumers billions of dollars a year. In 2020, PJM and New Jersey found one way to do just that.

On Nov. 18, PJM and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced a landmark initiative to help the state of New Jersey advance its ambitious offshore wind goals through an existing but never-before-used provision of PJM’s transmission planning process.

It was the first time a jurisdiction within the PJM footprint requested that PJM initiate the State Agreement Approach, included in the PJM Operating Agreement. This process provides a path for states to contract for the transmission facilities required to advance their specific energy goals and objectives.

PJM will include New Jersey’s needs in a competitive proposal window set to open in the first quarter of 2021. Transmission developers may submit proposals to address New Jersey’s goal of facilitating the infrastructure necessary to deliver a target of up to 7,500 MW of offshore wind to consumers over the next 15 years.

This is notable, because today, PJM’s planning process is directed primarily by grid reliability criteria, market efficiency and transmission needs for new generation. Projects are planned based on a need to maintain the reliable flow of electricity or to relieve system bottlenecks – or congestion – that cause higher electricity prices for some areas.

This is the first time that a state public policy priority will be driving transmission planning projects included in the Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP).

PJM is working not only with individual jurisdictions, but also collectively with coastal states to try to determine what the best options are to pursue offshore wind. That work and those discussions will continue.

New Tools Makes It Easier to Submit, Track Projects

PJM also released new interactive tools to simplify proposal submission and enhance project transparency.

The new Competitive Planner feature makes it easier for transmission owners and transmission developers to submit project proposals through PJM’s competitive transmission development process windows.

Current transmission owners and new transmission developers can now securely submit their proposals by following the instructions in an interactive form that guides them through the process. This helps improve the overall quality and accuracy of submissions.

PJM also has improved its Planning page on pjm.com as part of an ongoing effort to enhance transparency for project developers and others visiting the site to track current and proposed transmission projects.

The interactive data charts now are updated on a more frequent basis. These include the Queued Generation Fuel Mix and Active Studies charts, for example, which indicate what type of generation resources are in development and their status within the interconnection study process.

A total of 165 baseline and supplemental transmission projects were commissioned in 2020 as part of PJM’s RTEP. In all, PJM facilitated the commissioning of over 1.08 GW of new generation placed in service.

Visitors to pjm.com can follow all baseline, network and supplemental projects included in the RTEP at the Project Status & Cost Allocation page.

Synchrophasor Technology Grows at PJM

To expand bulk electric system visibility and enable PJM to better detect High Impact Low Frequency dynamic events and perform its reliability obligations, PJM stakeholders in 2020 endorsed an initiative to expand the use of synchrophasor technology across the grid.

The installation of synchrophasor measurement devices will be required for new planning projects meeting certain voltage levels and other substation criteria submitted to the RTEP after June 1, 2021.

Synchrophasors, also known as phasor measurement units (PMUs), record data at a rate of 30 times per second. Each measurement is a snapshot of voltage, frequency and current. Time-stamped and precision-aligned with GPS satellite signals, this data is collected, synchronized and combined to produce comprehensive, high-resolution views of the transmission system.

Improved Long-Term Load Forecast Model

PJM planners also implemented changes to the long-term load and energy forecast model to better align the non-weather-sensitive model with underlying drivers and historical trends. More granular data is now used for the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. For example, Service Employment was added as a driver to the Commercial Sector.

These changes, along with tweaks to reflect error trends and weather specifications, reduce the forecast model error.

The 2021 long-term Load Forecast Report, released Dec. 30, also takes into account the effect of COVID-19 – in particular, depressed load from a weakened economy and behavior patterns heightening weather sensitivity during heating and cooling periods. Heading into 2021, PJM Planning is both aggressively addressing immediate, short-term needs, while at the same time adjusting its approach for the needs of the grid of the future and helping states advance their energy policy goals.