Generation changes, lower load growth affect PJM transmission expansion

PJM Interconnection (PJM) issued a report on the 2015 Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP), with an analysis on the shifts driving baseline transmission projects in the region and a smaller magnitude and number of projects expected to be needed by 2020.

The changing dynamics in the RTEP process “reflect a new PJM reality characterized by flatter load growth and a generation fleet shift from coal to natural gas-fired units,” according to the report, which is divided into three books.

At the broad level, the need for new long-distance transmission lines driven by those industry changes has diminished, PJM said. The grid operator said is own research has shown flatter load growth driven by a number of factors, including more efficient manufacturing equipment and home appliances and growth in rooftop solar installations. Such developments led PJM to update its load forecasting process at the end of 2015, the report noted.

The 2015 RTEP was approved by the PJM board in December 2015, and the report provides RTEP study assumptions, drivers for grid enhancements and some project results.  

The shifting generation mix included plant deactivations due to environmental regulations, new natural gas-fired units powered by Marcellus Shale gas supplies and new wind and solar projects driven by federal and state policy incentives, PJM said. Market changes suggest that gas-fired capacity may exceed coal within several years, and if current trends continue, more than 20,300 MW of coal-fired generation will be removed from service between 2011 and the end of 2016.

PJM said it continued to receive unit deactivation notifications throughout 2015, totaling 1,626 MW. That was down from the 4,291 MW of deactivation notifications received in 2014, the 7,745 MW received in 2013 and 14,444 MW received in 2012.  

Network reinforcement cancellations in 2015 were caused by the withdrawal of 157 generation interconnection requests totaling 15,302 MW, with 25% of those from wind power projects, PJM said in the report. Interconnection queue withdrawals often reflect ongoing business decisions by generation project developers in light of PJM auction activity and the impacts of public policy changes around renewable fuels, PJM said.

When the PJM board approved the RTEP, PJM said that the transmission projects will strengthen the grid with a net increase of $490m, bringing total transmission investment since the first RTEP was approved in 2000 to $28.27bn.

The Feb. 28 report on the 2015 RTEP report singles out several transmission projects that have been approved and are in the construction or development phase, including the Cloverdale-Lexington 500-kV line in Virginia, with American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) expected to complete its portion of the project by June 1 after Dominion Virginia Power completed its portion in 2013.

Dominion has experienced delays in permitting on its Surry-Skiffes Creek and Skiffes Creek-Whealton projects in Virginia, even though state regulators have approved the project, the report noted. The planned in-service date has been pushed back to June 30, 2017, because of the permitting delays, and PJM said it “will work with Dominion to ensure that necessary operational guidelines are in place until the line is in service.”