MISO warns ‘immediate and serious’ challenges are threatening reliability  

The regional grid operator to which much of North Dakota belongs, the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO), issued its latest Reliability Imperative report warning that the nation’s electric grid faces several immediate and serious challenges.

MISO CEO John Bear wrote this statement at the beginning of the Reliability Imperative document:

Studies conducted by MISO and other entities indicate it is possible to reliably operate an electric system that has far fewer conventional power plants and far more zero-carbon resources than we have today. However, the transition that is underway to get to a decarbonized end state is posing material, adverse challenges to electric reliability.

A key risk is that many existing “dispatchable” resources that can be turned on and off and adjusted as needed are being replaced with weather-dependent resources such as wind and solar that have materially different characteristics and capabilities. While wind and solar produce needed clean energy, they lack certain key reliability attributes that are needed to keep the grid reliable every hour of the year.

Although several emerging technologies may someday change that calculus, they are not yet proven at grid scale. Meanwhile, efforts to build new dispatchable resources face headwinds from government regulations and policies, as well as prevailing investment criteria for financing new energy projects. Until new technologies become viable, we will continue to need dispatchable resources for reliability purposes.

But fleet change is not the only challenge we face. Extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe. Supply chain and permitting issues beyond MISO’s control are delaying many new reliabilitycritical generation projects that are otherwise fully approved. Large single-site load additions, such as energy-intensive production facilities or data centers, may not be reliably served with existing or planned resources. Incremental load growth due to electric vehicles and other aspects of electrification is exerting new pressure on the grid. And neighboring grid systems are becoming more interdependent and reliant on each other, highlighting the need for more interregional planning such as the Joint Targeted Interconnection Queue study that MISO conducted with Southwest Power Pool.

Mr. Bear’s statement on the retirement of dispatchable resources is welcome, but it would have held more weight if he had not equivocated about the possibility of reliably running a grid on carbon-free resources because it gives the general public the impression that wind and solar are feasible.

In many ways, MISO allowed the reliability of the grid to degrade to its current state by refusing to tell the people the truth about the necessity of keeping our coal and nuclear plants online and by obscuring the poor performance of wind and solar.