Energy

Top Regulator Makes Obvious Point About Coal’s Effect On Grid During Winter Blasts

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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One of the country’s primary energy regulators suggested Tuesday that a lack of coal power would not have caused widespread power outages during this winter’s arctic blasts.

A top regulator appointed by President Donald Trump last year suggested at a Senate hearing that the electric grid could have operated without coal so long as customers were willing to pay higher energy prices.

“We wouldn’t have seen any widespread outages absent coal,” Kevin McIntyre, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, told senators during a meeting hashing out how the grid responded to a recent spate of snowstorms.

Yet, coal production did help reduce energy prices, he clarified.

“[C]oal was a key contributor,” McIntyre added. “It wasn’t exempt from operational problems — there were some issues, as I understand it, with frozen coal piles in certain sites and so on. But it was, no question, a key contributor.”

Coal accounted for more than 40 percent of the electricity delivered during that time on the PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization (RTO) responsible for delivering energy to more than 50 million people, said the group’s president and CEO, Andrew Ott.

“We could not have served customers without the coal-fired resources; that’s the reality,” he said.

PJM burned so much coal, in part, because the price of natural gas skyrocketed during the cold snap, Ott said. New England had to import liquefied natural gas from Russia to stamp down high prices, according to a report from the Financial Times.

Snow covered nearly 50 percent of the northern section of the country leading up to Christmas Day of 2017. It made a “White Christmas” for almost half of the country, excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

Natural gas prices spiked during the snowstorms. Pennsylvania county was clobbered with 60 inches of snow in two days following Christmas day – the storm shattered records and required the national guard to help keep the roads clear and residents safe.

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