Panelists voice doubt about Texas-style grid failures in Virginia
Texas’ catastrophic winter crisis has become a political flashpoint linked to deregulation and renewables debates
Panelists at a conference on clean energy in Virginia Tuesday voiced doubts about whether Virginia could see the same kind of electrical grid failures Texas experienced during an unexpected deep freeze last February.
Virginia is in a “unique position” in that it has a regulated electricity market with vertically integrated utilities that own the plants that produce energy, but also requires utilities to participate in the regional electric grid known as PJM, said Brad Viator, vice president of external affairs for the Edison Electric Institute, an association that represents investor-owned utilities.
“Dominion can go out when they are short supplied and they can purchase power from the PJM marketplace,” said Viator.
John Hanger, a former Pennsylvania utility regulator who now works as an energy consultant for clients including Direct Energy, which has been lobbying in Virginia for increased competition in the state’s electricity market, said that the implication that the Texas failure could occur in Virginia is “a reckless statement” that’s “basically akin to yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.”
Compared to Texas’s electric grid, which is not connected with any other electric grid in the country and is not under the jurisdiction of federal regulators, “things are taken much more seriously in terms of reliability” in the PJM grid in which Virginia utilities participate, said Hanger.
PJM “has a capacity market. It has weatherization rules. It has penalties. It has interconnection. And by and large, if there is a problem in these systems, then there are indeed rotating blackouts for 15 minutes,” said Hanger. But, he added, “that has not happened in PJM since 1994.”
The panel discussion — “Can Texas Happen in Virginia?”— was part of the third Virginia Clean Energy Summit, which this year is being co-hosted by the Virginia Department of Energy, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance, Virginia Advanced Energy Economy and Chesapeake Energy Storage and Solar Association.
Besides Hanger and Viator, the panel also included Charles “Richard” Ross, a policy director for American Electric Power, Appalachian Power’s parent company.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.
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