Asthana: Resilience & Partnership Drive PJM’s Priorities

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PJM President and CEO Manu Asthana shared how PJM, its members and stakeholders are maintaining safety and reliability through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond during the 2021 IEEE Power & Energy Society General Conference July 26.

As part of the conference’s opening panel, “Managing Energy Business During a Pandemic,” Asthana said resilience and partnership were the twin engines driving PJM’s mission of keeping the lights on and keeping people safe in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

At PJM, pandemic response included sending 90% of the workforce home, sequestering operations staff in campus RVs, using not one – but two – backup control centers, and modifying HVAC filtration systems and office layouts.

“We were very clear about what we believed in and what we were trying to achieve,” Asthana said, adding that the “tremendous” impact of the COVID-19 pandemic took a great deal of partnership with stakeholders to work through.

PJM even consulted with officials in Italy, where the pandemic hit earlier, to understand the impact of COVID-19 on energy use.

“We don’t do this alone,” he said.

Beyond COVID-19, Asthana and other panel members shared their experiences with weathering high-impact power sector trends, including climate-driven load extremes, changing state and federal policy, increasing renewable penetration, aging infrastructure, and challenges to markets and planning.

For load forecasts, historical trends matter less during this new weather era, leaders agreed, from winter freeze events in Texas or wildfires and record-breaking heat facing western grid operators.

“This question of climate change and what we should plan for the future is a question that looms really large, particularly after what happened in Texas…and what is happening in the West,” Asthana said. “I completely agree that the past may not be an indicator of the future.”

Asked how PJM manages through divergent state policy interests, Asthana noted the dilemma of the grid as a “machine that does not know the borders of states.”

While providing the tremendous value of an interconnected grid, PJM endeavors to “create market structures that can facilitate all of the differences between states,” he said.

PJM continues to make progress on these issues, especially with recent work by stakeholders to reach consensus on reforming the capacity market’s Minimum Offer Price Rule.

State policy priorities present other opportunities, he said. PJM, for example, has partnered with New Jersey on a State Agreement Approach to facilitate offshore wind objectives. PJM issues also reflect industrywide trends, including an interconnection queue that is 90% renewable resources. In response, PJM and stakeholders are actively engaged in efforts to reform planning processes and improve the ways to measure renewables’ contribution to reliability.

“These contentious issues are in front of us as a country. An RTO is one area where they are being expressed,” Asthana said. “The question is decarbonization and the pace at which we can decarbonize the grid.”

Asthana was joined on the panel by Pepco Holdings Chief Customer Officer Derrick Dickens, Dominion President and CEO Robert M. Blue, California ISO President and CEO Elliot Mainzer, and Barbara Tyran, moderator and IEEE PES 2021 general meeting chair.