December 20, 2018 / 6:19 PM / a month ago

Retiring U.S. coal, nuclear plants pose reliability challenges -NERC

Dec 20 (Reuters) - Changes in the North American generation mix from coal and nuclear to natural gas and renewables could threaten power system reliability in some areas over the next decade, the organization responsible for the region’s grid said on Thursday.

But the electric industry has time to address reliability concerns before they become actual problems that affect consumers, the North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC) said in a long-term assessment.

“With proper planning and considerations that address the changing characteristics of our generation supply, industry will successfully navigate the unique set of reliability challenges that flow from an evolving resource mix,” John Moura, director of Reliability Assessment at NERC, said in a release.

This is the second report by NERC this week that could help the Trump administration justify its plan to subsidize continued operation of coal and nuclear plants, which are being hurt by low gas prices and growing use of renewables.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been advocating for steps to stem a surge in coal and nuclear retirements in recent years, arguing that more shutdowns would leave the country less able to bounce back from disruptions caused by storms, physical attacks, and hackers.

For a factbox on coal and nuclear retirements see:

Earlier this week, NERC said new pipelines and power lines would be required to meet electric demands if there are large-scale retirements of coal and nuclear plants.

In its latest assessment, NERC said Texas, the U.S. Midwest and Ontario need more generation resources to avoid the risk of below target reserve margins over the next five years.

The reserve margin is the difference between total generation available and forecasted peak demand.

As reliance on gas-fired generation increases in some areas, like New York and New England, market operators and policymakers are already developing fuel assurance mechanisms to mitigate supply disruptions caused by limited gas pipeline capacity and other factors, NERC said.

A total of 41,000 megawatts of new gas-fired generation is planned through 2028, NERC said. One megawatt is enough to power about 1,000 U.S. homes.

In Florida, Texas and California, gas-fired plants are projected to account for more than 60 percent of generation used during the day.

For states like California with lots of solar power, NERC recommended grid operators have enough flexible resources like gas-fired turbines that can ramp up quickly in case the sun stops shining over a large area.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Richard Chang

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