Curtis Tate Published

PJM Report: Natural Gas Supply Crunch Threatened December Blackouts

Steam and emissions rise from the tall stacks and cooling towers of the John Amos power plant against overcast skies next to the muddy water of the Kanawha River.
The John Amos power plant in Putnam County.
Curtis Tate/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A report by the nation’s largest power grid operator shows an interruption in the natural gas supply threatened rolling blackouts in December’s winter freeze.

According to a report from PJM Interconnection, natural gas production in the Appalachian Basin fell 10 to 11 billion cubic feet per day, or about 30 percent of the supply, during the Christmas holiday weekend last year.

As a result, power plants fueled by natural gas couldn’t get enough supply to operate.

In the end, no rolling blackouts took place in the PJM footprint, which includes West Virginia, 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

But PJM came close to a failure, the report said. 

The loss of one more power plant, or the inability to import power from the neighboring New York Independent System Operator may have plunged some of PJM’s 65 million residents into the darkness on some of the coldest days in memory.

PJM actually supplied power to neighboring regions, including the Tennessee Valley Authority and Louisville Gas & Electric-Kentucky Utilities, until it came up short for its own footprint.

Natural gas plants accounted for 70 percent of the outages on Dec. 23 and 24, 2022 according to PJM, while coal accounted for 16 percent.

For example, two of the three units at the Appalachian Power John Amos plant in Putnam County were offline during the storm, according to written testimony filed to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

Unit 1 was shut down for planned work on its wastewater treatment and coal ash disposal systems. Unit 3 was shut down on Dec. 20, because of a tube leak and did not become available again until Dec. 27, when the crisis was over.

At Mon Power’s Harrison Power Station in Harrison County, Unit 2 went offline on Dec. 7 and was not reactivated until 7 p.m. on Dec. 24, during the height of the crisis. It’s not clear what caused the outage.

Appalachian Power and other utilities in PJM asked their customers to conserve power during what became known as Winter Storm Elliott.

Appalachian Power is an underwriter of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.