Renewable Energy

America’s Invisible Roadblocks to Decarbonization

Back when coal was America’s top energy source, Kentucky was a big producer.

In fact, Kentucky’s been mining “black gold” for more than two centuries.

In 2016, the state produced the fourth-most coal in the country. That year, it mined 42.9 million tons.

But after 2016, utilities in Kentucky and elsewhere in the U.S. started phasing out coal-fired power plants. Many of these plants were old, and all of them contributed to carbon dioxide emissions.

So in 2019, former Kentucky state auditor Adam Edelen decided to do something to help the state and its surrounding region transition away from dirty coal. He formed the company Edelen Renewables to bring solar projects and much-needed jobs to coal towns in Appalachia (West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky).

Unfortunately, his recent efforts have been stymied due to the inaction of a little-known organization.

A Big Bottleneck Facing Renewables

Most people have probably never heard of PJM Interconnection. It’s one of America’s grid operators. It controls the power grid in all or part of 13 different states and in the District of Columbia.

 

Our nation’s electric grid is actually several subgrids, some of which are linked together. PJM is the nation’s largest grid operator, providing power to 65 million people.

Before renewables were cost-effective to install, PJM might have had one or two new generating projects to review per year. But that has changed.

Now PJM has a BIG problem. It has a backlog of 2,500 renewables projects waiting for review.

Before a new system is connected to the grid, PJM has to ensure it won’t affect grid reliability.

But the explosion of cheap, renewable energy has overwhelmed PJM. It simply doesn’t have the staff to review all of the new projects.

And PJM isn’t the only U.S. grid operator that has this issue. Most of the other ones do too.

PJM – with the help of other utilities and energy developers – has created a proposal for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to delay review on about 1,250 projects in its queue.

If the proposal is accepted, new projects wouldn’t be looked at until the end of 2025. And final decisions on those projects wouldn’t be made until the end of 2027.

This proposal will likely upset quite a few key players in the renewables space. There’s a lot of money at stake, and FERC’s decision will create financial winners and losers.

PJM has been a grid operator bellwether for years. And it often serves as a model for other grid operators.

So the rest of America’s grid operators are closely watching what plays out between PJM and FERC. The stakes are high.

For Adam Edelen, FERC’s decision is a make-or-break one. He has plans for a number of solar projects at old mine sites throughout Appalachia.

Put simply, PJM and grid operators need to hire more talent to meet the increased demand for new projects. Because renewable energy is here to stay. And delaying its deployment only delays decarbonization.

I’ll keep reporting on this important issue in the months ahead. The Earth’s health depends on the rapid deployment of renewables.

Good investing,

Dave

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