FERC Commissioner Mark Christie – We’re Headed Toward a Very Bad Place

Commissioner Mark Christie, who is a strong advocate for grid reliability, took the opportunity to talk about the week’s winter storms during a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) January 18, 2024, open meeting. Commissioner Christie commended the nation’s system operators for a job well done in maintaining power throughout frigid temperatures and snow that blanketed much of the country. He spoke about the energy supply mix in the PJM and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) regions during the previous several days, specifically offering January 17 as an example of the performance of dispatchable resources. 

On that day, PJM saw electricity demand peak at around 135 gigawatts (GW) with 90 percent of generation supplied by dispatchables that kept “the heat pumps going so people wouldn’t freeze.” MISO peaked at around 105 GW with dispatchable resources providing 77 percent of electricity, natural gas and coal each providing 34 percent of generation, and nuclear 9 percent. 

But about the future, Commissioner Christie had this to say, “We know in PJM, because they’ve already told us, they’re going to lose anywhere from 40 to 50 GW of dispatchable resources in the next few years. We know that MISO is losing dispatchable resources. They’ve warned that they’re going to be looking at a shortfall of around 5 GW within just a few years.”

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has been warning that the pace of the energy transition to wind and solar is unsustainable primarily because of the expected loss of dispatchable resources. NERC’s 2023 Long-Term Reliability Assessment reported that the nation could expect to lose almost 83 GW of dispatchable resources, mostly coal and nuclear, within the next decade.

That worries Commissioner Christie who pointed out that the nation is headed toward a “very bad place” if the pace continues. Directing his comments to PJM and MISO, Commissioner Christie cautioned that “If you don’t maintain these dispatchable resources until you have adequate replacements, we’re not going to have the success we had in the last three or four days. And instead of having those lights stay on and those heat pumps keep running, they’re not.”

Commissioner Christie concluded with one last observation, “The pace of retirements is a significant issue that we all have to deal with because that’s the threat that’s coming.” We anticipate more winter storms over the next several months and we expect that FERC and Commissioner Christie will continue to keep the pressure on grid operators and utilities to take responsible action to ensure grid reliability.