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MISO CEO Highlights “Immediate and Serious Challenges” to Reliability of Region’s Grid

There are “immediate and serious challenges to the reliability of our region’s electric grid,” and the entire industry — utilities, states and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator — must work together and move faster to address them, John Bear, CEO of MISO, recently said.

Bear made his comments in a message included in a February 2024 report posted on MISO’s website.

“MISO and its utility and state partners have been deeply engaged on these challenges for years, and we have made important progress,” Bear said. “But the region’s generating fleet is changing even faster and more profoundly than we anticipated, so we all must act with more urgency and resolve.”

He noted that many utilities and states are decarbonizing their resource fleets. Carbon emissions in MISO have declined more than 30% since 2005 due to utilities and states retiring conventional power plants and building renewables such as wind and solar, Bear said.

“Far greater emissions reductions — possibly exceeding 90% — could be achieved in coming years under the ambitious plans and goals that utilities and states are pursuing,” he noted.

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,” Bear wrote.

He said that 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,” Bear said.

He said 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 and supply chain and permitting issues beyond MISO’s control are delaying many new reliability critical generation projects that are otherwise fully approved, Bear said,

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,” Bear wrote.

This report documents how MISO is addressing these risks through the “Reliability Imperative” — “the critical and shared responsibility that MISO, our members and states have to address the urgent and complex challenges to electric reliability in our region. MISO first published a Reliability Imperative report in 2020, and this is the fourth time we’ve updated it to reflect the changing landscape.”

Along with detailing challenges to electric system reliability in the MISO region and elsewhere, the report also states that the ISO and its stakeholders “have made great progress under the Reliability Imperative in recent years.”

Some of those key accomplishments to date include a reliability-based demand curve, a seasonal resource adequacy construct and system enhancements.

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