House panel surveys grid operators about impact of EPA power plant rules

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014

Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are asking grid operators if future U.S. EPA regulations on coal plants will spur reliability problems and rising power prices.
Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and Reps. Ed Whitfield (Ky.), Joe Barton (Texas), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Steve Scalise (La.) sent letters this week to the four grid operators responsible for electricity delivery in the eastern United States.Their questions were spurred, they said, by high prices for natural gas and electricity in the East caused this winter by persistent Arctic blasts and constrained gas supplies.Grid operators are being asked about the role played by coal-fired power in mitigating prices and reliability concerns and what could happen if coal plants were forced to curtail production or close because of proposed EPA emission regulations.

“We are specifically concerned that the loss of these critical generation facilities in such a short timeframe will make it increasingly difficult to meet electricity demands in the future, thereby putting reliability at risk and driving up electricity price for consumers,” the legislators wrote.

The letters asked PJM Interconnection (PJM), Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc. (MISO), New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and ISO New England (ISO-NE) to describe in detail how their generation supply performed during the winter, including any retiring coal plants, renewable energy and voluntary demand reduction resources, outages or curtailment issues, and infrastructure bottlenecks for natural gas.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing the record price spikes but so far has not found any illegal reasons for such high market prices. FERC staff said many of the problems were tied to operational flow orders, maintenance, the weather and the fact that long-term gas prices actually fell last year, encouraging long-term demand and growth.

FERC has also voiced concerns about the country’s “rush to gas,” which is putting aging nuclear and coal plants out of business because they are too expensive to fix and have to compete with natural gas’s lower price (Greenwire, March 20).

The committee asked for responses from the grid operators by April 18.

Click here for the letter to PJM, here for the letter to MISO, here for the letter to NYISO and here for the letter to ISO-NE.