Amid heat wave, Pa. can meet its energy demand. The electrical grid operator is concerned that might not always be true | StateImpact Pennsylvania Skip Navigation

Amid heat wave, Pa. can meet its energy demand. The electrical grid operator is concerned that might not always be true

  • By Unnati Akhouri
A view of the PJM  control room in 2017.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM control room in 2017.

PJM, which operates the electrical grid for the northeast region including Pennsylvania, says it can meet the increased demand for electricity during the heat wave that’s expected to continue through Sunday. 

But it’s concerned about meeting future demands, because it says fossil-fuel plants are closing and renewables aren’t coming online quickly enough.

High temperatures have been in the 90s this week. The highs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are predicted to be between 96-98 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, before cooling slightly to a high of 90 on Monday. 

Compared to last year’s peak demand of 147,000 MW, PJM projects that the peak demand for this summer will be 151,000 MW. Each megawatt is equivalent to powering 800 homes.

In 2023, PJM had 186,500 MW of installed capacity. As power plants such as the Homer city coal plant – largest in Pennsylvania – have closed down, the capacity has gone down to 182,500 MW this year. 

The grid operator says it expects more fossil-fuel plants to close in the coming years. By 2030, more than 20% of the generators, producing 40,000 MW of energy, are projected to shut down.

According to PJM, the shutdowns come as a result of state and federal policies, increasing goals requiring clean energy, strict environmental regulations and rising maintenance costs of old plants.

The replacement for the loss in power is to come from renewable energy sources like solar, wind and battery. 

“At least 95% of the projects in queue to connect to the grid are renewable projects, said Susan Buehler, PJM’s chief communications officer. “So what we see coming is clearly an energy transition.”

Climate change and Pennsylvania

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is warming Earth at an unprecedented rate. It’s already responsible for extreme weather, rising sea levels, and more severe droughts worldwide. Pennsylvania is on track for more intense heat waves and stronger storms in coming years, the Department of Environmental Protection says.

Scientists stress that rapid action is crucial to avoid the worst effects. Pa.’s most recent Climate Action Plan calls for an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

Doing that will require hard choices by the nation’s fourth-largest carbon emitter: Pennsylvania must figure out how to cut emissions while planning for the future of people and communities that rely on the fossil fuel industry.

—Madison Goldberg, StateImpact Pennsylvania

But renewables are not coming online fast enough, PJM said in an annual report. 

Last year, the American Council on Renewable Energy said PJM’s lengthy queue process and the disproportionately high upgrade costs renewables have to pay compared to fossil plants was causing the low completion rate of projects. 

“PJM has reformed its process and now has 40,000 MW of renewable projects, approved by PJM and ready to be built” Buehler said. “But right now, we don’t see any renewable generation getting built. This has nothing to do with PJM.”

This month, governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois issued a letter to PJM to quickly fix issues with their interconnection queue and capacity market in order to speed up the development of renewables. 

When asked to comment on what actions the state could take to get renewable projects online, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office touted its plan to put $5.1 billion by 2035 toward “reliable and affordable energy development in Pennsylvania.”

Lightsource Bp, SunPower Builders and Endless Energy PA, three renewable energy developers did not respond to a request to talk about how the renewable industry is responding.

PJM’s annual report predicts it could fall short of meeting the energy demands as early as 2027. That means it could ask for reduced consumption, halt energy supply to other states and even interrupt service temporarily. 

The report says faster development of renewables, and using natural gas as a transition fuel, can help meet future energy needs. 

PJM wants to work with the 13 states and the District of Columbia to make sure that before policies are written and enacted, that they’re working with us to make sure that we can get these projects built, and that we don’t run into a capacity shortage,” Buehler said. “If too many plants retire too soon, we could have a shortfall.”

The climate is expected to continue getting hotter, with more severe heat spells.

Dr. Hosmay Lopez, a scientist studying climate variability at NOAA, said, “You have three components of a heat wave that are considered extreme events: How hot it gets, how often heat waves occur and how long they last. For the northeast, all three are increasing.”

According to Climate Central, the cooling demand – how much cooling is needed to maintain a comfortable indoor air temperature – is going to rise by 71% by 2050. 

Heat waves like the current one contribute to the rising demand. 

“Another feature of heat waves is very high night time temperatures and so you still have demands for cooling at night,” Lopez said. “And that will also put stress on the energy grid.”

Looking ahead, Buehler said, “We’ll take whatever measures necessary to make sure that we have enough capacity to keep the grid reliable.”


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