Despite reforms meant to speed up the queue, delays in getting mostly new solar, wind and storage projects through the largest American grid operator’s interconnection process could make it tough for some states to hit their renewable energy goals, per a report released this month by an environmental group.
The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council focuses on PJM, which coordinates the flow of electricity and runs power markets for a region that includes all or parts of 13 states including Maryland and the District of Columbia — an area that includes 65 million people.
For years, hundreds of mostly renewable power projects have been snagged in PJM’s interconnection queue, in which proposed new power generation sources line up for studies that look at necessary transmission upgrades to connect to the power grid and allocate costs. The organization came up with a plan to clear the backlog and streamline the process going forward that was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year.
But those reforms will “just barely provide enough renewable energy” to meet the goals of states that have enacted renewable portfolio standards — requirements that a certain portion of their electricity come from renewable sources like wind and solar — through 2027.
“States with the most ambitious RPS targets are likely to lack adequate supply to meet their demand starting before 2027,” the report says. The NRDC notes that PJM’s plan to deal with the backlog applies to projects that submitted interconnection requests before October 2021. Interconnection requests submitted after that won’t start being processed until 2026 “at the earliest,” the report says, adding that the landmark federal Inflation Reduction Act, which has big incentives for renewable power, could spur an “extraordinarily high” number of new interconnection requests.
Ten states in PJM’s territory, plus the District of Columbia, have varying renewable portfolio standards, ranging from Indiana’s 10% by 2025 to Virginia’s 100% by 2050 for its two biggest utilities.
“Given the lack of wiggle room between estimated PJM supply and statewide demand, states should be concerned about having enough renewable energy to meet their needs.”
Concern about being able to meet Maryland’s renewable goals within the constraints of PJM in part prompted a bill in the state’s legislature to force utilities to be more transparent about some of their internal deliberations and their participation with PJM. In New Jersey, ambitious offshore wind goals meant the state had to negotiate its own transmission deal with PJM for interconnection in part because of queue concerns.
“PJM must restore trust in the functioning of the queue by delivering on the reform timeline, accelerating studies where possible and acting on proactive transmission planning to reduce system costs and provide a means for state policies to succeed,” the NRDC report says.
Jeff Shields, a PJM spokesman, said the queue hasn’t been the only thing holding up renewable projects. The organization has noted in the past that 44,000 megawatts of mostly renewable power projects have cleared the queue but haven’t been built as a result of other factors, including supply chain problems and the increasing difficulty of siting wind, solar and other projects.
“PJM advanced landmark reforms to speed the interconnection queue that were overwhelmingly approved by PJM stakeholders and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. These reforms will begin this summer, and by 2026 we expect to study the interconnection of more than 200,000 MW of mostly renewable resources,” Shields said.
“PJM will continue to work constructively with all of our stakeholders, including the NRDC, on ways to go even faster.”