Virginia is on track to meet short-term carbon-free targets laid out in the sweeping Clean Economy Act of 2020.
And advocates agree that’s remarkable considering almost 44,000 megawatts of wind, solar and energy storage projects proposed across the state are still waiting in PJM’s interconnection queue.
Still, they question whether the region’s grid operator is prepared for the massive influx of clean energy mandated over the next three decades. That includes more than 5,000 MW of wind off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina.
However, access to the electrical grid — for electrons from wind and other renewables — has to be more robust and less congested for the energy transition to be smooth.
In Virginia, that translates to easing the interconnection queue at PJM, the country’s largest regional transmission organization, which serves 13 states and Washington, D.C. More than 202 gigawatts of renewable energy across the Mid-Atlantic and beyond were stalled on that waitlist last year — 95% of the total energy projects in the queue.
FERC’s Order 2023 rule, issued in late July, requires transmission providers to adopt a first-ready, first-served cluster study model to winnow speculative projects in the queue. It means PJM will evaluate multiple projects together instead of one at a time.
Over at Advanced Energy United, director Jon Gordon tracks PJM issues for the national industry association focused on clean power. It’s not acceptable, he said, that Virginia developers shelved at least 225 projects since 2016 because of interconnection headaches that made their proposals economically unviable.
“The cluster approach is a step in the right direction,” Gordon said, “but a lot more needs to be done to get out of this mess.”
That long list includes reforms that address concerns such as the price tag of grid upgrades — who covers them and why developers aren’t notified earlier.
“There’s no silver bullet answer to navigate all of this,” Gordon said. “Per usual, it requires silver buckshot.”
For starters, PJM needs to explore automating certain tasks and hiring more staff. Employees need advanced degrees and a specialized skill set. Buehler said PJM is increasing its interconnection planning staff by 50%, and still has openings to fill.
Historically, Gordon said, the PJM interconnection model was based on hooking in large, fossil fuel-powered plants, and that happened infrequently. PJM never imagined the massive volume of projects engendered by a solar and wind revolution.
“They moved too slowly, things kept piling up and PJM became overwhelmed,” Gordon reflected. “You could argue that PJM should have seen this coming and prepared. But it’s challenging to see the future.”
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