Like a snowball tumbling downhill, the reliability crisis is only picking up steam. Despite the continuous and ever-louder warnings that we are quickly approaching a point of no return, regulators and grid operators have brushed aside concerns and spoken in platitudes about protecting a free market that is anything but free. Just how much longer can they ignore a debacle of their own making? We’re going to find out.
Retirements of well-operating baseload plants keep coming. This week, FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) announced that is closing both the Bruce Mansfield and Sammis coal plants in 2021 and 2022, respectively. These retirements come on the back of FES announcing in March that is retiring the Perry, Davis-Besse and Beaver Valley nuclear plants. Those three nuclear plants account for 4,000 MW of capacity. The Sammis and Bruce Mansfield coal plants account for another 4,000 MW of baseload capacity. The very foundation of the grid is crumbling as regulators declare “nothing to see here.”
FES has made itself abundantly clear. Despite not wanting to close any of these plants, its hands have been tied by a marketplace that does not adequately value the reliability, resiliency and fuel security of its baseload units.
FES Generation President and Chief Nuclear Officer Don Moul said in a statement, “As with nuclear, our fossil-fueled plants face the insurmountable challenge of a market that does not sufficiently value their contribution to the security and flexibility of our power system. The market fails to recognize, for example, the on-site fuel storage capability of coal, which increases the resilience of the grid.”
Since 2010, more than 600 coal-fired generating units – totaling more than 115,000 MW of generating capacity – have retired or announced plans to retire. Coal retirements are approaching 40 percent of the fleet that was operating in 2010. In addition, half of the nation’s nuclear fleet is facing significant economic pressure. Five plants have retired in the past five years, and another 12 reactors at nine plants have announced plans to retire ahead of schedule.
The cost of allowing these retirements to continue will be far greater than intervening to keep essential units running. In July, we released a study produced by Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) that examined the cost of keeping three at-risk coal plants running against the cost of allowing them to retire. Two of the three plants in the study were FES’s Sammis and Bruce Mansfield generating stations.
The study, which provided a deep-dive into hard data on these plants and the PJM market, found that targeted support to keep these three plants running would be 15 times less expensive than allowing them to retire. Specifically, the study showed:
- Cost to keep at-risk plants running: $130 million annually.
- Increased costs to consumers in the PJM market to shut down the at-risk plants due to increased energy and capacity market prices: $2.0 billion annually.
- Capital cost to replace these plants with the same amount of Combined Cycle Gas Turbines capacity: $5.7 billion.
While opponents of intervention to support baseload capacity have asked questions – and tried providing answers – about the cost of supporting at-risk plants, not nearly enough questions have been raised about the cost of not taking action.
If EVA’s targeted case study is any indication, the cost to consumers of failing to address the deep flaws in our electricity markets will be devastating. A less reliable, resilient and secure grid is a near certainty.
- On August 31, 2018