Coal and Nuclear ‘Kept the Lights On’ During Polar Vortex

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry listens to a report from Asst. Energy Secretary Karen Evans.

February 12, 2019

Millions of people endured a deep freeze at the end of last month when temperatures throughout the FirstEnergy territory plunged to below zero or single digits. The cold snap tested the reliability of the electric power generation during a time of transition. And traditional generation came out a winner.

“As of 11 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 30), power plants in the PJM region were producing 127,431 megawatts of electricity. That’s about 50 percent above normal,” wrote editorial writer Jim Ross in a West Virginia newspaper. “Coal-burning power plants … were pumping out 46,611 megawatts of that, or about 37 percent. Natural gas plants produced 36,369 megawatts, or 29 percent. Nuclear plants produced 34,527, or 27 percent.” Together, he noted, coal and nuclear combined to provide two-thirds of PJM’s power supply.

“Renewables provided 8,357 megawatts to the grid … seven percent,” Ross added.

In the Midwest it was the same: “Right now, only two major fuel sources are reliable, dispatchable and resilient: coal and nuclear,” reported one news outlet in the area served by the Regional Transmission Organization in the Midwest, noting: “Coal is right now providing 49 percent of the electricity.”

Because of interruptions in gas supplies, thousands of Minnesota residents were asked to turn their thermostats down to 63 degrees. It was the same in Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked most state residents to lower their thermostats to 65 degrees or less to conserve on gas.

During the cold wave, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry discussed the polar vortex with top aides, including Karen Evans, assistant secretary of the newly formed Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, established last year to coordinate the response to potential energy shortages from extreme weather events.