• Tony Zelinski

FERC meeting: Grid rules, a boost for gas and Manchin




The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission moved Thursday to boost the reliability of the power system by addressing regulatory gaps that could strain the grid as renewable projects proliferate.

In response to recent grid disturbances at solar and wind farms nationwide, FERC directed the North American Electric Reliability Corp., or NERC, to propose new standards geared toward better predicting and understanding how those renewable resources behave. The changes could help keep the lights on and improve public confidence in the reliability of renewables, said FERC Chair Richard Glick.

“It’s very important that we make sure we move forward from a reliability perspective, and that the industry does everything it can to ensure the reliability of the grid as we rapidly transition to a clean energy future,” Glick said.

FERC’s actions on grid reliability came during what may be the penultimate commission meeting for Glick, a Democrat whose term expired this year. President Joe Biden has nominated Glick to continue leading the commission for four more years, but the Senate is unlikely to confirm Glick because of opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Glick did not comment on his future at FERC during the meeting. But he told reporters afterward that he has not spoken to Manchin since last week, when the senator publicly announced that he was “not comfortable” holding a hearing to consider Glick’s nomination. He also said that Manchin told him the reason for opposing his nomination, but said he would “prefer not to share it.”

“As I said earlier, there are things I can control and things I can’t control. It was factors beyond my control,” Glick said.

During the meeting, FERC unanimously approved an unprecedented dam removal project in Oregon and California.

In addition, the commission authorized a new natural gas export project on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, even as the Democratic commissioners raised concerns about how industrial development in the region was affecting disadvantaged communities.

FERC’s two orders on grid reliability focused on “inverter-based” resources. Solar, wind and battery systems all use inverters to convert the electricity they generate into the power that’s used by the grid.

Until recently, the vast majority of electricity in the U.S. came from traditional power generators that don’t require inverters — including coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants. Reliability standards for the power system were designed with those traditional resources in mind, FERC staff said during the meeting.

Since 2016, there have been 12 incidents during which large swaths of solar and wind capacity have “tripped” offline, often for a matter of seconds or minutes, agency staff continued. The incidents have alarmed NERC, the nonprofit monitor of the U.S. power grid, which has warned that they could spur blackouts if sufficiently widespread.

“I put this under the category of ‘better late than never,’” said Commissioner Mark Christie, a Republican. “NERC has been warning about this for years, and system operators have been warning about this for years.”

In one of two decisions on the issue, the commission directed NERC to develop a plan for identifying and registering all inverter-based resources that affect the reliable operation of the bulk power system. Currently, wind and solar projects that are smaller than 75 megawatts are not required to be registered in the same way as other resources, Glick said.

In addition, the commission proposed that NERC develop new reliability standards or update the standards to close any potential gaps pertaining to inverter-based resources.

As the commission moves forward on the issue, it will be important to strike “the right balance on the costs and burdens” imposed by new requirements for inverter-based resources, said Commissioner Allison Clements.

“The resource mix is changing, and these [inverter-based] resources are coming online,” Clements said. “So let’s take those lessons learned and let’s make them reliable because as we know, they will continue to grow exponentially in number.”

In a statement, NERC praised FERC’s “focus on reliability matters” and said it would continue to work with the commission and other parties to make sure that the bulk power is reliable.

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