GUEST POST: Widespread Natural Gas Electric Generation Failures – Christmas ’22

“During the emergency, wind produced more than double what PJM had planned on.”

Tom Rutigliano, Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Climate Reality Project

PJM’s Preliminary Review of Christmas Storm Electric Generation Failures Shows Natural Gas Units Failed to Provide Power at Over Triple the Rate of Other Generation

By David E. Hess | PA Environment Digest Blog | January 11, 2023

On January 11, members of the PJM Interconnection, the regional electric grid operator that includes Pennsylvania, reported in a preliminary review of the impact of  Winter Storm Elliott, that natural gas-fired power plants failed to provide power at over triple the rate of other technologies and fossil fuel power plants generally failed at an “unacceptable” level, according to PJM.

“As we called [generation] reserves, a significant portion of [the generation] fleet failed to perform,” PJM said in its presentation.

70 percent were natural gas plants

Bloomberg reported 70 percent of the almost 46 GW of outages were natural gas plants.

Forced generation outages during the coldest part of the storm on December 24 found 32,473 MW of natural gas-fired generation off-line, 7,562 MW of coal-fired generation and 5,917 MW of nuclear, oil, wind, solar, according to PJM.

The primary reasons for the outages were plant equipment failure, lack of fuel supply and start/failure and unit trips.

Short notice or none at all

PJM said 92 percent of all outages were reported to them with less than an hour’s notice or with no notice at all. 

PJM said a major factor was the significant decline in natural gas production in Appalachia (Marcellus and Utica Shales) in Pennsylvania and other states which saw a nearly 30 percent drop in daily production.

20 percent decline in gas production

Nationwide, PJM said, there was a 20 percent decline in natural gas production.

PJM also mentioned coming penalties on generators for failure to perform when called– “Power plants have already received payment for promises of reliable service in this year’s capacity auction, and the penalties that will come in the wake of this storm will only be a fraction of what they have already received.”

Bloomberg reported generators may face up to $2 billion in penalties.


Tom Rutigliano, Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a blog post published on January 9– “As that day and the next wore on [December 23, 24], power plant after power plant failed. Some couldn’t get fuel, some just stopped working, and still others failed to start when called on. 

“By Christmas Eve, an astonishing 46 GW of power plants were out of service [in the PJM region]—that’s enough to power California. 

“What did nearly all these plants have in common? They were powered by fossil fuels, mostly gas.”

Tom Rutigliano, Natural Resources Defense Council

Image source

“What did nearly all these plants have in common? They were powered by fossil fuels, mostly gas. 

“PJM reported failures across the gas system, including low pressure, frozen compressors, and simply no commercially available fuel. In PJM’s own words, the forced outage rate was “unacceptably high.”

“PJM made it through this storm without instituting blackouts, but it did have to stop exports to neighboring regions, which contributed to Duke Energy’s troubles.”

“Once again, we learned that we can’t rely on gas and coal when extreme weather hits. They’re not infallible, and system reliability will continue to suffer if grid operators keep overestimating gas and coal.”

On January 11, Rutigliano added, “Increasingly extreme weather events are all but certain to continue, so let’s apply the lessons from this storm and others that came before it to improve the grid and protect customers in PJM territory.” 

“History has proven again and again that gas is not as firm as it claims to be, and reliability will continue to suffer until that fact is accepted.”

Tom Rutigliano, Natural Resources Defense Council

“History has proven again and again that gas is not as firm as it claims to be, and reliability will continue to suffer until that fact is accepted. PJM must plan accordingly, and reform rules that subsidize fossil fuel power plants by pretending they’re more reliable than they really are.” 

“PJM’s year-round capacity market was designed to meet surging demand during the hottest days of the year, but isn’t doing well at meeting winter needs. It should be split into seasonal markets that can focus on each season’s unique challenges. 

“FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] needs to take a serious look at how the industry is preparing for cold weather and find the political will to set binding winterization standards, including on natural gas supply. 

“And lastly, PJM and FERC need to fix market structures that reward unreliable power plants.” 

Click Here for a copy of PJM’s presentation slides:

— Post-Gazette – Anya Litvak: Christmas Holiday Freeze Froze Off Sizable Portion Of Appalachia’s Natural Gas Production Cutting Off Supply To Power Plants When They Needed It Most [Gas Generation Dropped By 22% In PJM]

— Bloomberg: PJM Electric Grid Operator Had 23% Power Plant Failure In December Storm [Natural Gas Plants Accounted For 70% Of Almost 46 GW Of Outages]



Solar Shined While Gas Froze Up Again
BLOG: January 10, 2023

Fossil Fuel Plants Are an Infirm Resource
January 9, 2023
– The December storm that brought extreme cold to much of the nation demonstrated—yet again—that fossil fuels fail when electricity is needed most. Coal and natural gas plant outages caused blackouts in North Carolina and Tennessee. We’re now learning that during the same storm, a wave of fossil fuel failures almost caused a much larger disaster for 65 million people in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

Biggest US Grid Had 23% Power-Plant Failure in December Storm
January 11, 2023
– The largest US grid operator saw almost one-fourth of power plants serving 65 million people shut down during the Christmas weekend storm, pushing the region to the brink of blackouts. In the first autopsy of the winter freeze that strained PJM Interconnection LLC last month, the grid operator saw 23% of its power-generation fleet shut down on the morning of Dec. 24, according to a presentation released Wednesday. PJM manages the electrical network that stretches from New Jersey to Illinois.