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New Report Finds Coal Essential to Grid Reliability and Resilience During Winter Storm Elliott

From Americas Power:

A new report , “Operation of the U.S. Power Generation Fleet During Winter Storm Elliott,” analyzes the performance of traditional power sources and renewable energy during the December 2022 storm that brought record-setting low temperatures and high electricity demand to most of the country. Coal, natural gas, and fuel oil provided 94 percent of the additional electricity that was needed when demand peaked because of Elliott. In addition, the analysis shows the increase in power plant outages during extreme weather caused by insufficient supplies of natural gas which is not stored on site like coal.

Energy Ventures Analysis, Inc. (EVA) authored the report. “The U.S. electric power supply system is at increasing risk of inadequate power generation during periods of high electricity demand, especially during winter storms. The energy transition away from power generated by fossil fuels and nuclear toward intermittent power supplied by wind and solar requires increased availability of energy storage. Yet, the development of new battery storage lags far behind the pace of retirement of existing power plants with on-site fuel storage, especially coal plants. This report demonstrates how dependent the power supply system is on the remaining coal fleet, much of which will retire this decade unless policies are changed to limit closures,” said Seth Schwartz, EVA Managing Director.

From the report:

  • Maintaining a generation fleet with on-site fuel storage to balance intermittent renewable power (wind and solar) is essential to avoid future electricity shortages.

  • The coal fleet was a major source of increased electricity generation during Elliott. This was because coal plants maintain fuel inventory stored on site. The coal fleet provided 38 percent of the increased electricity generated nationwide during Elliott as well as: 47 percent in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region,

  • 39 percent in the 14-state Southwest Power Pool region, and

  • 37 percent in the 15-state Midcontinent Independent System Operator region.

  • Increased electricity generation from natural gas, which is not stored on site, was limited in some regions by lack of fuel supplies due to the simultaneous high demand for heating. In PJM, for example, natural gas was able to provide only 2 percent of the additional electricity required because of Elliott, compared to 47 percent from coal.

  • Although high wind speeds were associated with Elliott, wind produced 6 percent less electricity during the storm than it did during the first half of December.

  • Solar power provided 3 percent of the additional electricity generation but was not available during critical times (between sunset and sunrise).

Utilities have announced plans to retire 82,000 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity by 2030. Without comparable replacement capacity with on-site fuel storage, power system failures are more likely during similar extreme weather events.


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