PJM President & CEO Manu Asthana Reflects on Current Events, Priorities and the Future

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PJM Interconnection’s plan for the future of the nation’s largest electrical grid includes examining its markets and planning processes to best ensure reliability while also preparing to meet states’ policy goals, President and CEO Manu Asthana told a panel of power service professionals April 28.

Asthana said PJM is sketching a vision for what the grid will look like in 2035, 2040 and beyond. This effort includes examination of market structures, reliability tools and infrastructure, particularly the identification of efficient frameworks to accommodate offshore wind and maturing behind-the-meter technologies.

Asthana identified his three priorities as maintaining reliability of the grid, emphasizing stakeholder-based solutions to difficult problems, and developing his people within the PJM organization.

“The most important thing we have to get right, if we get one thing right, is reliability,” he said. “It’s very clear when you think about it today how essential electricity is.” He said the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has only underscored that.

He said the pandemic was discussed in his first week on the job. PJM was quick to react to the pandemic, banning international travel to the campus beginning in mid-January, then shifting to a telecommuting posture that began March 13, he noted.

Most notable, he said, is the implementation of a third, fully operational control room run by a sequestered crew of operators. As PJM coordinated its response internally, with regulatory and government and industry partners, it extended that experience and knowledge sharing to empower stakeholders. Sharing of information, resources and best practices continues through regular communication and teleconferences.

Asthana reflected on gains at PJM in the regional transmission organization’s capacity for listening and responding to stakeholder concerns. The stakeholder process, he said, is “a significant strength of the organization. I see that we have tremendous capability, tremendous passion to do the right thing – to get the market structure right and to get the rules right for the long term.”

PJM does not advocate particular policies. Rather, it is PJM’s role to listen to all stakeholders and perspectives and bring expertise to bear to help achieve the three priorities of reliability, planning and market function for the most efficient delivery of power to the 65 million customers in the footprint spanning 13 states and Washington, D.C.

“The diversity of thought and the amount of passion and energy that our stakeholders bring to the process is significant,” he said. “I want to use our stakeholders to arrive at workable solutions.”

As a measure of success in 2020, he reflected on PJM’s recent compliance filing to FERC regarding the capacity market and the Minimum Offer Price Rule, or MOPR, which was crafted with significant stakeholder input that included nine listening sessions at regular stakeholder meetings.

“I hope our stakeholders feel they were listened to, and we took a balanced approach,” he said.

He also pointed to the recently filed risk mitigation enhancements to the PJM Tariff and Operating Agreement, which also were crafted with stakeholders and received overwhelming stakeholder backing.

“Ultimately, our stakeholders supported us and helped to make the proposal better. It shows how our process can work, and we can be very flexible to find the right answers for the market,” he said.

Asthana reiterated his leadership philosophy – that leaders have a responsibility to develop their team members. “I believe strongly that leaders grow people,” he said. Asthana said he was already impressed with the team at PJM. “They are highly capable, world-class people who are looking to do the right thing every time.”

His four months on the job have not been what he could have foreseen amid a global health crisis, he said.

“It has been humbling to be reminded that we don’t get to write the script by which we can make a difference,” he said. “But we can rise to the occasion. I am proud of my team for their choices to do just that.”