DOE: If it weren't for coal-fired electricity plants, the Northeast would have blacked-out during recent bomb-cyclone

From the “when the going gets tough, renewables can’t cut it” department. Wind power generation actually dropped 5% during this period

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration GOES-16 satellite caught a dramatic view of the bomb cyclone moving up the East Coast on Jan. 4, 2017. NOAA Photo

From the Daily Caller: Coal-fired power plants kept the lights on for millions of Americans during January’s bomb cyclone, according to an Energy Department report warning future plant retirements could imperil grid security.

Energy analysts at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory found that coal power kept the lights on for millions of Americans during the bomb cyclone that pummeled the eastern U.S. from late December to early January.

NETL analysts found that coal plants made up most of the incremental power utilities relied on to keep electricity flowing during the cold snap. Nuclear and oil power plants played a big role, NETL found, but coal provided 55 percent of extra power across six grid operators.

“During the worst of the storm from January 5-6, 2018, actual U.S. electricity market experience demonstrated that without the resilience of coal- and fuel oil/dual-firing plants … the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages, likely leading to widespread blackouts,” NETL researchers reported.

NETL found that “without available capacity from partially utilized coal units, PJM would have experienced shortfalls leading to interconnect-wide blackouts.” PJM Interconnection is the largest independent system operator in the U.S., serving 65 million customers.

“In PJM, the value of fuel-based power generation resilience during this event was estimated at $3.5 billion,” NETL reported. Coal power capacity retirements could mean baseload power plants that kept the lights on this winter won’t be around during a future coal snap.

Coal plants have been prematurely retired en mass since 2012, due to a combination of federal and state policies and low-priced natural gas. Republicans and the coal industry blamed Environmental Protection Agency regulations for contributing to coal plant closures, which President Donald Trump seized upon during the 2016 campaign.

“The 30 GW of coal that ramped up to meet the surge in PJM load clearly includes the units most likely to retire due to insufficient market support, given those units were not running at baseload levels before the event,” NETL reported. As more of these units retire, the ability of the system to respond to extreme events with reliance, let alone economically, deteriorates.”

NETL’s study is only the latest to highlight risks of continued power plant closures. ISO New England warned in January that continued coal, oil and nuclear plant retirements increased the risks of rolling blackouts during extreme weather.

New England has become increasingly reliant on natural gas and renewable energy, stemming from state and federal policies to shutter coal and oil power plants. However, pipeline capacity has not kept up with demand, causing supply issues and high prices.

ISO New England president Gordan van Welie said “coal and oil power plants rarely run most of the year, but they are still needed during extreme weather events. Nuclear power is also a key contributor.”

Two of the region’s four nuclear plants are set to retire in the coming years, along with coal and oil plants. More wind and solar power won’t be enough to support the grid during cold snaps, van Welie warned.

New England was so desperate for natural gas to keep the heat on it took two shipments containing liquefied natural gas from Russia.

More here

Full DOE report here:

UPDATE: Local copy, because some people reported issues in downloading from the DOE site: Power System Reliability_Report_Published (PDF)


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March 29, 2018 2:36 am

A lesson we need to learn here in the UK as we have been having a long and very cold winter. We do not ‘shutter’ coal-fired power stations, we blow them up so they can never be used again! Madness!

Reply to  Margaret
March 29, 2018 4:29 am

Indeed, the modelling done by National Grid (which makes a lot of money from connecting new wind farms, very little from maintaining existing baseload plant) is very friendly towards wind power, rather like a plane maker burying crash events under the umpteen hours of problem-free flying.
There is now enough data from wind farms during cold snaps to model what would happen if the weather of those past events is repeated, but don’t expect NG to do this, bearing in mind their cosy relationship with the regulator OFGEM.

Reply to  Margaret
March 29, 2018 9:33 am

A very important point! Coal is a necessary component in the electricity sources mix, because coal power plans are the most resilient of all types. Natgas power stations rely on gas pipelines, vulnerable to terrorism and other enemy actions. Nuclear power plants are natural targets, and so are hydro-power stations. Coal can and should be stored next to the power plant, ensuring uninterrupted operation in emergency.

Phillip Bratby
Reply to  Margaret
March 29, 2018 11:17 am

The trouble is that the establishment always say “lessons will be learned”, but they never do learn anything useful.

Reply to  Phillip Bratby
March 29, 2018 5:48 pm

The lack of learning is looking especially acute in New England as the ~700 Mw nuke plant – Pilgrim – permanently retires after next winter.
The back up plan of importing 1,000 Mw from Hydro sourced Quebec just got quashed with the thumbs down to Northern Pass transmission line.
The back up to the back up – transmission line through Maine via CMP – is facing unexpected opposition which jeopardizes reliable wintertime electricity for that region for many years into the future.
The wide eyed optimists touting offshore wind are completely devoid of engineering, economic, and political oppositional aspects of that folly.
They will soon learn, however.
Just as Wyle Coyote was long past the precipice before realization and fall occurred, New England presently offers a case study of what fossil fuel avoidance, coupled with heaping doses of hubris, holds out for is adherents.

Reply to  Phillip Bratby
March 30, 2018 3:29 am

Yes they do. They learn that their Sociaist Egaltarian Plan is working. Welcome to freezing in the dark and low level population control. (Actually the last part fails as was shown by the 1983 blackout and the sudden rise in births 9 months later). Just kidding around- tongue in cheek. Sitting here watching the snow drift down and wondering which skis to pick.

J Hope
Reply to  Margaret
March 30, 2018 10:45 am

And the winters are going to get worse, Margaret, as we head deeper into the Grand Solar Minimum. Be prepared.

Bloke down the pub
March 29, 2018 2:55 am

The sooner a major population area has a complete black-out the better. Until the do-gooders are confronted by the results of their idiotic policies, they’ll keep on pushing the same old BS.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
March 29, 2018 3:52 am

Exactly so. It takes a crisis to make the people willing to accept a big policy change. This leads to the axiom:

Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis. Machiavelli

There are all kinds of university professors who insist that renewables are viable and economic right now. Some folks, including most Democrat politicians, believe them. The sooner the population is hit upside the head by reality, the sooner they will quit believing the snake oil vendors. Only then can we build the pipelines necessary to get American natural gas to the east coast.

Reply to  commieBob
March 29, 2018 5:21 am

It takes a crisis to make the people willing to accept a big policy change.

Which is exactly why the watermelons manufactured CAGW in the first place.

Reply to  Bloke down the pub
March 29, 2018 4:26 pm

I completely agree, they will learn nothing from being bailed out by the coal plants. They need to be badly hurt as a result of their own stupidity…assuming if they are smart enough to understand the lesson, and that’s a bit if.

Reply to  pyeatte
March 29, 2018 5:57 pm

People in New England have NO idea how close they came to a catastrophe this winter as the bulk of attention has been given to imports of Russian LNG and soaring electricity prices.
Bigger story, however, is that the 2 million gallons of heating fueled burned for power generation completely depleted existing stocks.
There were at least THREE fuel laden ships heading to St. Charles for proper blending before the desperately needed hydrocarbons were shipped north.
Articles describing ice-entrapped barges in the Hudson river should/would not have been necessary if the small diameter pipelines running from Linden to Albany were built.
Upstate NY and all of New England have boxed themselves into a VERY dangerous corner when long cold snaps occur in winter time.

F. Leghorn
March 29, 2018 2:58 am

But will this wake up any of the “woke” people? Not likely.

Reply to  F. Leghorn
March 29, 2018 4:37 am

No… as pointed out above, it will take serious power cuts to get people to notice. By then it will take at least a decade to rebuild reliable power.

Reply to  F. Leghorn
March 29, 2018 8:20 am

Usually when I hear that adjective “woke” I suspect just the opposite form what they are intending to imply. Usually the “woke” individual has instead been stupefied and misled, rather than being “enlightened”.
I also find it amusing that its the ignorant who need to invent a new word or abuse an existing one simply because they are deficient in their vocabularies. Ebonics strikes again….

John Garrett
March 29, 2018 3:02 am

I, for one, worry that the damn nutters are going to continue their with their CO2/climate stupidity until they actually kill a bunch of people.

Ian W
Reply to  John Garrett
March 29, 2018 5:29 am

I think that their virtue signalling has far higher priority to them than people in energy poverty dying from cold.

Rod Everson
Reply to  John Garrett
March 29, 2018 7:25 am

John Garrett: A reasonable percentage of those on the far left think that’s a feature, not a crisis.

March 29, 2018 3:09 am

As soon as everyone has a ‘smart’ meter, variable contracts will be introduced. So proletarians can look at the 15 minute spot price on their smart phone app and decide at which price they rather sit in the dark.
Hopefully there will be a special ‘green’ contract with guaranteed wind/water power. When the normal supply of ~36GW drops to 12GW every eco-nut can sit in the cold or pay $10.00+/kWh.
After all, if you are not willing to make sacrifices, then you are not dedicated to your religion.

Russell Robles-Thome
March 29, 2018 3:33 am

I have no corroboration of this, but read today that one reason for the length of power outage in Puerto Rico was damage to wind turbines by the hurricanes – who would have thought? Coal or gas would likely have been far more resilient.

Reply to  Russell Robles-Thome
March 29, 2018 4:32 am

Same problem with solar panels. Plenty were destroyed. Pictures available on the web.
Simply search Porto Rico solar panels destruction.

Reply to  Russell Robles-Thome
March 29, 2018 9:17 am

Although the wind/solar damage was an obvious reason, it seems that the main reason was just plain old deferred maintenance on the grid. Someone made a lot of money by doing nothing…

Adam Gallon
Reply to  Russell Robles-Thome
March 29, 2018 11:17 am

No, it’s due to destroyed powerlines. Puerto Rico generates just 2% of its power from renewables. Myth busted.

Reply to  Adam Gallon
March 29, 2018 7:19 pm

This is the problem. It generates just 2% from renewables. At what cost!
And when the wind blows hard the solar panels are gone.
Nothing can be repaired in the solar panels agglomeration.
A lot more costly than repairing power lines and for just 2% of power!
Forget it.

March 29, 2018 4:49 am

This was also the case in the UK, even with a useful amount of wind. Solar is irrelavant in February, broken or not. Duty cycle minimal and solar radiation low at an effective 70 degrees off the Sun. Had their been no wind shit may have happened. Not sure if we fired up the diesel genes farms built on the same land as solar PV farms. Brilliant way to suply enrgy. So much better to built the cheapest, lowest CO2, lowest resource use per KWh, CCGT power stations, 50% more effecient than any other generation from combustion. But no fast easy 100% price subsidies….

Reply to  brianrlcatt
March 29, 2018 5:34 am

The UK scraped through the cold weather by ‘demand management’ . Coal was ramped up to flat out , but there wasn’t enough gas, as our ‘Rough’ gas field storage was decommissioned, and we simply couldn’t produce and import it fast enough. Big industrial gas users were persuaded to reduce their demand, i.e. told they weren’t getting the gas they needed. That meant there was enough gas for the electricity generators. People sent home from work is not news. Blackouts would have been big news. This way the true scenario, i.e. not enough fuel, didn’t hit the press.
True, it was a windy cold spell with a decent wind power contribution, but the greenies of course paint this as a success story for renewables, rather than a near-miss due to an ideology driven failure of strategic planning.

March 29, 2018 4:59 am

Renewables are unreliables. Perhaps the advocates of wind and solar really want a crash, or just don’t care.

Reply to  Tom Halla
March 29, 2018 4:29 pm

They want to cut down our industrial might, and eliminating reliable, cheap power is just the ticket to do it.

March 29, 2018 5:16 am

South Australia already had blackouts from unreliable renewables.

Reply to  jim
March 29, 2018 7:19 am

South Australia serves a population of 1.6 million. PJM serves 65 million. Hopefully PJM puts more resources into their grid and can manage it better. By the way, they do.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
March 29, 2018 5:32 am

We need to be clear that people are already dying because of the cost of so called “green renewable” wind energy – many poor people cannot afford to heat their homes adequately and for the whole time they should, because they cannot pay the ever rising costs of subsidising enviro-lunacy.
The liberal left in the U.K. doesn’t want to hear this, but many wholly preventable excess deaths in winter are the result.

AGW is not Science
March 29, 2018 5:47 am

This is yet ANOTHER *uncounted* COST of “renewables” – the fact that generating capacity ITSELF is vulnerable to storm damage and extended periods of non-availability. Your average coal, oil, gas, or nuclear power plant essentially stands undamaged following a storm, and the only thing necessary to restore power is to repair transmission and distribution lines.
The retards in government who want to (or who ARE) tear down coal-fired power plants in favor of this stupidity need to be relentlessly attacked with images of shredded solar panels and windmills and challenged with what their contingency plans are to keep the power on in the wake of storms.
Once again, the stupidity, it BURNS!

March 29, 2018 6:17 am

Same in the UK.
During the UK cold snap coal power stations were working at 110% capacity, at 11 gw, which was about 20% of demand. (They reopened an already closed station.)
But all those coal stations are earmarked for closure, due EU emissions regulations. So what would take up that 11 gw deficit?
… Solar was at a standstill (hardly surprising at 52 degrees north in winter).
… Wind was down to 50% capacity, due an anticyclone and due ice on the blades.
… Bio was doing almost nothing.
… Nuclear was at 50% due maintenance on very old power stations, long past their shelf-life.
… Gas was down to 50% due a lack of gas. (The government shut down our largest gas storage facility as we ‘did not need it’, and greeeney opposition to fracking has delayed new gas sources.)
This is a greeeney crisis.
… It is the greens who are closing the coal stations.
… It is the greens that said we did not need gas storage, because cold winters are a thing of the past.
… It is the greens who opposed fracking for gas.
… It is the greens who turned Drax into a woodburning stove, dedicated to ravaging every forest in America. (At 4 gw, Drax is a very hungry wood burning stove).
… It is the greens who promosted solar, which does not work in the winter.
… It is the greens who promoted wind, which singularly failed to deliver during this cold snap.

AGW is not Science
Reply to  ralfellis
March 29, 2018 10:07 am

It is the greens that should have their electricity cut off FIRST, and restored LAST. And even then the stupidity of their own pet agenda probably won’t sink in.

March 29, 2018 7:10 am

Good grief, look at the ISO’s in question. The report mixes ISO-NE with ERCOT. Then when the wind in ERCOT drops there is the claim that wind “in the east” dropped. What would be more interesting would be looking at SPP and seeing how the wind change in that power pool varied with demand.
Also, if the demand increase had been in Texas or SE you probably would have seen the demand increase met by Nat Gas rather than coal. All you have shown here is that wind power in Texas dropped at the same time that a cold front hit NE.
Look, I’m not a shill for wind. There is obviously a need for dispatchable power, but mixing ERCOT and ISO-NE? This is the world’s most read climate blog, you can do better.

Reply to  chadb
March 29, 2018 7:29 am

Instead of SPP you could also look at MISO, either of those two have a substantial coal fleet, wind integration, and had demand jump by more than 10%. The report in question does call out PJM, but wind in PJM was nearly flat. ERCOT had a substantial drop in wind during the period in question, and MISO and SPP are not discussed independently.
Personally reading through the report my takeaway would be that there is a dire need for more pipeline capacity into the northeast, and that some power operators could hedge their bets by making their turbines dual fuel capable and keeping ~2 weeks of liquid stocks on hand.

March 29, 2018 7:24 am

“during a future coal snap.”
I’m pretty sure you meant “cold snap”.

March 29, 2018 7:30 am

I knew it! Liberalist New England has been colluding with the Russians!

March 29, 2018 7:39 am

But don’t you see, these horrible weather events are caused by the burning of fossil fuels in the first place. Get rid of coal-fired plants and they won’t ever be needed.

March 29, 2018 7:44 am

More Evidence We Are Headed Towards a Cooling Period
Bad news for the climate alarmists, and even worse news for the world. Because the politics of CAGW have favored preparing for continued warming, we are completely unprepared for a cooling period. Instead of developing more oil fields and energy sources that will survive an ice age, we’ve been focused on the nonsensical energy sources of … Continue reading

Don B
March 29, 2018 7:49 am

New England politicians truly are “useful idiots.”  They were persuaded by propaganda spread by Russia and others that fossil fuels were evil, so they prevented the building of natural gas pipelines. Then, when gas was needed they imported expensive, liquified Russian gas, because inexpensive U.S. gas was not available.
Russia won and New England lost.

Reply to  Don B
March 29, 2018 8:01 am

Not just that, they shut down their coal and nuc plants at the same time! If they had either kept open their old plants or built new pipelines this winter would have been a non-issue. Instead they broke their existing capacity, refused to build new, and then were surprised when they didn’t have enough.
Then to cap it off, it is illegal for a tanker flying under a foreign flag to load LNG in the gulf then unload in the bay. But we also tax so high that no tanker would fly under the US flag.

March 29, 2018 8:20 am

Great report that needs to be sent to our politicians here in Alberta but, gosh, everyone on WUWT must be trying to download the NETL report. Their site is dead. Will try later.
“This site can’t be reached took too long to respond.”
Looked at the report earlier on my tablet (not saved) and now the site is not responding. Must be all of the WUWT readers getting a copy to send to their politicians. This is the sort of thing these green political idiots need to read. ☺☺

March 29, 2018 8:33 am

Clive – maybe the greenies have launched a DOS attack so no one can read it.

March 29, 2018 8:33 am

The ironic thing is that there isn’t even need for long pipelines. The Marcellus and Utica shales of southwestern New York State contains vast quantities of natural gas. Unfortunately it requires fracking, and is thus forbidden to the Politically Correct New Yorkers and New Englanders. Much better to import Russian LNG.
Oddly enough it is being produced in huge quantities from the same formations in Pa, WV and OH, with no noticeable problems.

Mark Negovan
March 29, 2018 9:11 am

Ok, the definition of bomb does not include storm damage…
It is a Northeaster or Nor’easter for whatever reason ‘e th has been dropped. It could also be referred to as simply a cyclone.
Bomb implies an extreme as in extreme weather caused by CO2. Although the recent storms included damaging winds, they were neither abnormal nor extreme.
Power distribution management is a fascinating career choice and the systems are extremely complex with automation and include remote and computer control management. Adding risk to any fundamental system is counter to all engineering practices.

Mark Negovan
Reply to  Mark Negovan
March 29, 2018 9:20 am

The key point is on the last slide in the presentation…
The variability inherent in renewable generation will challenge existing control structures

Mark Negovan
Reply to  Mark Negovan
March 29, 2018 9:37 am

A solution to allow for renewables on the grid would be to have “sheddable renewable load allocations” which would be dropped immediately offline in the event of a loss or highly varying renewable load. But I just don’t see any value in the massive added expense and added risk for such a deployment, especially given Christopher Monckton of Brenchley’s clear and unassailable climate sensitivity to CO2 analysis.

J Mac
March 29, 2018 9:15 am

The power of wishful thinking cannot be converted to either home heat or electricity, on a bitter cold winters night.

March 29, 2018 9:55 am

I’m sure the NYT could have stepped in to fill the power gap if coal had shut down. Think of the Federal disaster money foregone in this bomb storm near miss on the grid. They could have touted superstorm sandy 2 for more grants and other aid.

March 29, 2018 10:23 am

Wind didn’t just drop by 5% of the market, wind production dropped by 32%; that’s the planning figure needed if wind expands its market share.

March 29, 2018 11:50 am

Coal brings radioactive materials into our living environment, which kills humans and everything else.
Sure probably by some time all of it will get burned, but slowly the rate of coal use, will slow the rate of destruction of the planet and humans.

Reply to  stock
March 29, 2018 6:02 pm

Living above ground exposes humans to direct radiation that causes cancer and shortens human life. And unlike coal, there’s no filters or scrubbing. Having most humans living underground will slow the rate of destruction of both the surface and humans. Eloi are suckers.

March 29, 2018 1:04 pm

LOL due to winds/snow heavy trees) I DID lose power for hours.
gas powered generator helped.
20″ of heavy wet stuff in my area (not including the 4 ft drifts) and was hard plowing.

March 29, 2018 2:45 pm

Energy suppliers are trying to build more gas pipelines in the northeast, but are being thwarted by “environmentalists.” As the northeast has been taken over by liberals, a situation which will intensify, I believe the coming decades will see more switchover to solar and wind power, and more and more brownouts and blackouts during critical events such as storms. I “4cast” that people who have known reliable electricity supply will just become inured to interruptions as they are told by their “leaders” that it is for their own and the planet’s good, even as global temperatures remain steady or perhaps even decline.

Tsk Tsk
March 29, 2018 5:40 pm

Just another case where the only thing that we’ve run out of is something that we “can’t run out of.”

March 30, 2018 3:03 am

The recent UK power shortage fiasco was predicted here, by me, five years ago:
An Open Letter to Baroness Verma
“All of the climate models and policy-relevant pathways of future greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions considered in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent Fifth Assessment Report show a long-term global increase in temperature during the 21st century is expected. In all cases, the warming from increasing greenhouse gases significantly exceeds any cooling from atmospheric aerosols. Other effects such as solar changes and volcanic activity are likely to have only a minor impact over this timescale”.
– Baroness Verma
So here is my real concern:
IF the Sun does indeed drive temperature, as I suspect, Baroness Verma, then you and your colleagues on both sides of the House may have brewed the perfect storm.
You are claiming that global cooling will NOT happen, AND you have crippled your energy systems with excessive reliance on ineffective grid-connected “green energy” schemes.
I suggest that global cooling probably WILL happen within the next decade or sooner, and Britain will get colder.
I also suggest that the IPCC and the Met Office have NO track record of successful prediction (or “projection”) of global temperature and thus have no scientific credibility.
I suggest that Winter deaths will increase in the UK as cooling progresses.
I suggest that Excess Winter Mortality, the British rate of which is about double the rate in the Scandinavian countries, should provide an estimate of this unfolding tragedy.
As always in these matters, I hope to be wrong. These are not numbers, they are real people, who “loved and were loved”.
Best regards to all, Allan MacRae
Turning and tuning in the widening gyre,
the falcon cannot hear the falconer…
– Yeats

March 30, 2018 11:08 am

Dang, we missed such a good show.

April 3, 2018 6:08 am

I guess New England residents and their leftist politicians would prefer looking for wood burning stoves on craigslist and buying whale oil futures to provide heating and lighting.

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