Most of the oldest fossil fuel power plants in the United States are located near or in cities, making it more urgent—and more difficult—to shut them down. Now, with the changes in arcane rules announced just last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it will be much easier to replace them with battery storage.
This is welcome news. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has long called for replacing old plants in urban areas with battery storage facilities, which can improve grid reliability, and renewable energy. FERC’s new rules for connecting batteries to the power grid remove a major obstacle to using big batteries for grid reliability. What may appear to be a small change may result in significantly cleaner air across the country.
The new rules, endorsed unanimously by FERC commissioners, incorporated UCS’s recommendation about the expected use of batteries in heavily populated areas. Because batteries can be scheduled to charge and discharge, UCS argued the demand they place on the grid is different than the demand from such typical daily activities as cooking dinner or running air conditioning on hot days. Grid planners consider that everyday electricity use as an unavoidable driver of peak demand. Until now, grid planners mainly assumed that the demand for energy to charge a large battery would happen at the same time the grid is most stressed by normal daily activities.
FERC’s rule change will enable grid planners to see that battery storage can be built in places where it is most needed without requiring utilities to install new transmission just to supply the batteries, which is what they used to do. Under the new rules, batteries will be able to compensate for insufficient electricity supply in areas dependent on old plants, thus accelerating the transition from fossil fuels, the decarbonization of the energy supply, and the removal of urban pollution sources. Before these new rules, utilities could delay closing old, polluting power plants until new transmission lines were designed and permitted to deliver peak demand electricity.
FERC’s recent action enables utilities to connect storage batteries to strategic points on the grid much more quickly and cheaply than replacing fossil fuel plants with new transmission. In addition, storage batteries should be able to store wind and solar energy when they are most abundant, and deliver lower cost energy to consumers. Many states support new investment in battery storage for just these reasons. Now FERC has lifted one of the last remaining obstacles for it to happen.