Lessons Learned From Winter Storm Elliott

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  

Winston Churchill

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released a joint 167-page report on last year’s Winter Storm Elliott, the fifth major winter generation outage event since 2011.  The report analyzes the performance of electric generating fleet in the Eastern Interconnection (states east of the Rocky Mountains) and provides recommendations for maintaining grid reliability during challenging weather conditions.

Elliott’s extreme weather between December 21 and 26, 2022 led to electricity generation outages, derates, and higher electricity demand, causing several eastern grid authorities to declare energy emergencies.  Natural gas accounted for almost half of all generator outages and derates during Elliott.  At one point, more than 55,000 MW of gas-fired generation were unable to operate or were derated.  This is one of the reasons FERC Chairman Phillips has called for gas reliability standards.

On the other hand, the coal fleet was able to generate additional electricity during Elliott because coal plants maintain fuel on site. In fact, the coal fleet provided 38 percent of the additional electricity nationwide, including 47 percent in the 13-state PJM region, 39 percent in the 14-state Southwest Power Pool region, and 37 percent in the 15-state Midcontinent Independent System Operator region.

The joint report offers 11 recommendations that are summarized in the attached paper. However, the report failed to include another important recommendation: the need to retain existing coal-fired generation.  Utilities in the Eastern Interconnection have announced plans to retire 71,700 MW of coal-fired generation during 2023-2030, even though grid operators, NERC, and FERC have warned that the continued retirement of baseload resources, especially coal, jeopardizes grid reliability.

Successful implementation of the FERC/NERC report’s recommendations regarding natural gas, like those put forward by the North American Energy Standards Board report, will require determination and a greater sense of urgency.  In the meantime, out-of-market solutions intended to make natural gas generation more reliable should be extended to other resources, such as coal, that provide fuel security and other essential reliability attributes.