The power industry is undergoing a major transformation. While that change is mostly good, it does not come without risk.
According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the entity charged with maintaining electric reliability across North America, blackout risks exist throughout the continent. Much of that risk is caused by the rapidly changing nature of power generation in the United States and the industry’s inability to keep up with those changes.
In December 2023, NERC released its annual analysis and projection for electric reliability over the next 10 years. The 2023 Long-Term Reliability Assessment offers a sobering look at the current state of generation and transmission in the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.
According to the report, the North American Bulk Power System is undergoing a “rapidly changing resource mix.” New technologies are also being introduced that affect how the system is planned and operated.
These changes are putting many parts of the nation at risk of blackout. The report assesses the risk according to one of three categories: high, elevated and normal. NERC puts several areas within the regions of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and the Southeast Reliability Corp. in the high-risk category.
Areas within the regions of the Southwest Power Pool, Northeast Power Coordinating Council, Texas RE-ERCOT and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council are placed in the category of elevated risk.
NERC identifies several factors contributing to this pattern. Wind, solar photovoltaic and hybrid generation are projected to be the primary additions to the resource mix over the 10-year assessment period. This heightens the need for ensuring reliability and requires significant attention to planning and development of an evolved transmission system as the industry transitions.
NERC also emphasizes the effect of rising demand. It notes that electricity peak demand and energy growth forecasts over the 10-year assessment period are higher than at any point in the past decade.
Finally, NERC points to retirements of existing generating facilities. In the report, it identifies over 83 GW of fossil-fired and nuclear generator retirements currently anticipated through 2033. An additional 30 GW of fossil-fired generators have announced plans to retire over the decade but have yet to enter deactivation processing with planning authorities.
Of note, not all states are following through on retirements. At about the same time that the NERC report was published, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to extend the shutdown date for Diablo Canyon, the state’s last functioning nuclear power facility, through 2030 instead of closing it in 2025 as previously agreed.
Environmentalists have been fighting to close the plant, which can supply up to 9% of the state’s electricity.