Lawmakers question PJM about plant closings in light of request to conserve power

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PJM Interconnection’s determination last fall that the closings of the Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell power stations would have no impact on the electrical grid’s reliability is being questioned by two local lawmakers in light of the grid operator’s request during last week’s cold snap for people to conserve power.


PJM’s analysis regarding the plant closings was questioned by state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, and state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, in letters sent Tuesday to PJM and the state Public Utility Commission.


“PJM officials assured the public during hearings related to local plant closings that the grid would have enough electricity to reliably meet demand,” the lawmakers said in their letter.


“Based on the most recent events, it appears that the PJM needs to re-evaluate,” the letter said. “Local families need to be assured that they will have electricity when temperatures reach record lows or record highs.”


FirstEnergy announced in July it would close the two coal-fired plants, citing weak demand, low prices and the costs of complying with environmental regulations.


PJM, which ensures the reliability of the electric grid in 13 states and the District of Columbia, reviewed the shutdowns and determined they would create no problems with system reliability. The plants closed in October.


During last week’s sub-zero temperatures, however, PJM asked the public to conserve electricity. This came despite assurances last fall that the closure of the two power plants would not affect the reliability of the grid, the lawmakers said.


The request to conserve power raises new questions about last year’s assessment of FirstEnergy’s closure plans, they said.


While temperatures in the region hit record lows Jan. 6 and 7, they were not unprecedented or unforeseen, the lawmakers said. Southwestern Pennsylvania experienced similar colder weather in the early 1990s, sparking concerns then about power usage.


“(We) continue to have reason to be gravely concerned about the future of electricity generation and reliability for our constituents,” the lawmakers said, asking for a re-evaluation of the grid in light of the plant closings and plans for future coal-fired plant shutdowns.


“It is our position that PJM must answer to the public, to those 380 employees and their families affected by the closure, to those consumers that were asked to conserve their electricity in fear that they may be left without any, and to all those that worked diligently for months trying to convey their serious concerns on the effect the closures could have on the power grid and the dependability of electricity in our area,” the letter said.


Paula DuPont-Kidd, PJM spokeswoman, said PJM had not yet received the letter and so could not offer a response.


However, the closing of the plants was not a factor in the situation that developed last week that resulted in PJM asking customers to conserve power, she said. PJM knew the two plants were closed and would not be available to provide electricity and had found replacements for that power, she said.


Sub-zero temperatures throughout much of the eastern United States last week had driven up electric demand to record levels, PJM said in asking the public to conserve. The extreme cold also resulted in a number of outages at power plants. Despite the problems, PJM later concluded, the system was able to meet power demand without interruption.


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