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Tolerance for energy shortfalls will plummet in electrified economy: NERC chief


Fuel access crucial for electrification: ISO-NE official

Gas-electric issues, transmission siting are priorities

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  • Kate Winston
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  • Gary Gentile
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  • Electric Power LNG Natural Gas Oil Shipping

The electrification of the economy could heighten the risks of energy shortfalls on an already constrained grid, while at the same time reducing the public's willingness to deal with blackouts, the head of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation said Dec. 14.

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"As we electrify more aspects of our lives, including space heating, including transportation, in addition to everything that is already electrified, our tolerance for reliability issues and energy shortfalls is going to decline very quickly to zero or near zero," said Jim Robb, president and CEO of NERC.

"So, the reliability requirements and stresses on the grid are going to increase," Robb said. But it is not something that will happen overnight, he said. Electrifying the entire economy would increase demand dramatically from where it is today, but it will take a long time to build out that infrastructure, he said.

New England worries

In some parts of the country, like New England, increased demand from electrification will depend on access to fuel as much as access to generation, according to panelists speaking at a virtual press briefing hosted by the US Energy Association.

The Everett LNG facility outside of Boston is going to be critical over the next five to 10 years as more heating and transportation is electrified, said Anne George, vice president of external affairs and corporate communications at ISO New England.

LNG is also going to be critical in the region this winter. For instance, NERC has raised concern about whether New England will have sufficient energy if there is an extended cold spell this winter, unless there is considerable effort to replenish stored fuels like fuel oil and LNG, according to NERC's 2022-2023 Winter Reliability Assessment.

Electric utilities are working with senior members of the Biden administration on a Jones Act waiver, should that become necessary this winter, said Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute.

The 1920 Jones Act requires all good shipped between two US ports to be carried on ships that are US-built and US-flagged, with majority US owners and crews. The US does not have any LNG tankers that meet the requirements of the Jones Act, so New England would need to rely on foreign sources of LNG unless the White House issues a waiver.

Policy wish list

Robb said that resolution of gas-electric issues is at the top of his policy wish list. There needs to be a way to think about the electric grid and the natural gas system as an integrated system, he said. Right now, the two systems operate in two different ways, and everyone is doing what makes sense in their own context, he said. "But it is resulting in failures that are unacceptable from an electric reliability perspective," he said.

The US also really needs to figure out a way to get transmission sited, Robb said. There is plenty of interest in building transmission, the important projects are known, and investors are lining up ready to put money into them, but they can't get sited, he said. "The ability to get major infrastructure projects sited is really key to meeting any of the clean energy challenges that I see in front of us," he said.