Working toward an electricity system that aggressively lowers carbon pollution requires a well-operated regional power grid for success. Today’s interconnected electric power grid is reliable, affordable, and increasingly carries clean electricity. Tomorrow’s integrated electric grid must be cleaner still, as well as reliable and affordable. The emerging modern, efficient power grid must be designed and operated to reduce environmental impacts, including allowing Minnesota and its neighbors to comply with the nation’s first (and long overdue) limits on carbon pollution from our existing coal-burning power plants; these standards, to be finalized this summer, are known as the Clean Power Plan.
A report by three prominent electric grid industry experts concludes that regional tools and technologies will help ensure the Clean Power Plan does not raise grid reliability risks. The Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions from Existing Power Plants: Options to Ensure Electric System Reliability report authors—Susan Tierney, Eric Svenson, and Brian Parson—explain how grid planners and operational rules make the grid strong, and lay out the utility of the Clean Power Plan’s flexible design. Their thoughtful analysis charts a role for grid planners to help states develop their plans to cut carbon pollution. They conclude that “We are confident that we can achieve a lower emissions electricity grid while maintaining reliability.” The grid’s design elements and operations allow the system to adapt to the long-term goals under the proposed Clean Power Plan.
Tierney, Parsons, and Svenson, who have more than 100 years combined experience in the power sector, provide a thoughtful perspective on ensuring reliability of the electric grid. They point to ample flexibility mechanisms under the Clean Power Plan, including giving states more than a decade to achieve cuts in carbon pollution. Combined with existing power grid management tools and practices, grid planners can handle reliability issues related to Clean Power Plan implementation, just as they have taken market transitions like integrating higher levels of carbon-free renewable energy in stride for decades, while providing reliable services.
The report recommends that independent systems operators, like the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), provide input to states as they develop compliance plans. In Minnesota, MISO has been participating in the state’s Clean Power Plan stakeholder group open to all interested parties. This recommendation makes sense because grid managers already regularly assess state and federal energy and environmental laws for their potential impacts on grid reliability. States benefit because they can use the input to inform development of reliable, affordable compliance plans.
These expert authors remind us that grid planners already have the systems in place to maintain reliability. They emphasize that because of the Clean Power Plan’s flexible design and the many tools available to grid planners to manage for reliability, there is no good reason for a “reliability safety valve,” especially one that would allow utility companies to emit excess pollution: “We are concerned that a reliability safety valve could reduce the incentives for states to conduct the proactive planning that would otherwise result in successful implementation of the Clean Power Plan.” Grid planners already are continuously strengthening grid reliability even as Minnesota and the region significantly expand wind and solar energy and energy efficiency. Grid planners will always need to solve grid integration and reliability issues: that’s their job, and they do it well.
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