Maintaining a resilient, reliable power grid is on the minds of many. Utility companies, independent system operators (ISO) and regional transmission organizations (RTO) understand that preparation is key in avoiding a black start situation that might result from natural disasters, fuel supply, cold winter weather or security threats.

Black Start Preparedness

PJM Interconnection is the RTO for 13 states and the District of Columbia, covering 243,000 square miles, using more than 82,000 miles of transmission lines and working to provide reliable electricity to over 65 million people. PJM Interconnection is also serious about being prepared.

In issuing a systemwide RTO request for proposals (RFP) in January 2018, PJM will pay winning utilities in the RTO system a tariff to provide services that will deliver the means to restart the grid in the event of a blackout. This creates a win-win for the utility and PJM.

Although single black start power plants exist in the PJM region, this RFP is the first to develop a network of capabilities throughout the PJM RTO system for implementation in 2020.

Is Your Utility Ready?

The PJM RFP offers an opportunity for independent and private equity-owned electric power generation companies in the RTO network to be part of the overall restoration solution.

PJM has made the consideration criteria clear for potential RFP participants. These 16 evaluation criteria will help determine whether an RTO utility is well-positioned to submit a proposal.

While all RFP criteria should be considered, some stand out. The unit type (simple cycle or combined cycle), unit age, fuel diversity, firm gas transportation and proximity to existing large generators, such as nuclear and coal plants, are elements that make a potential site particularly attractive. Other factors that make some plants more suitable than others include transmission system voltage, regulatory ease and speed of permitting, and geographic location. Utilities that meet all or most of these criteria may be well-suited for the PJM RTO, which decides where to locate these resources.

PJM RTO utilities and independent power producers should examine and evaluate what makes their plant well-suited to be a black start resource and whether to pursue submission of a proposal to PJM.

Making the Case to Win

PJM RTO utilities that can address at least the majority of evaluation criteria should seriously consider moving forward with a proposal. But beyond meeting the criteria, what should utilities focus on in preparing their proposal?

Feasibility studies need to thoroughly examine plant capabilities and make sure that providing black start services to the PJM network is a good next step.

It’s in the best interest of operators to identify and evaluate the plant’s starting megawatt (MW) requirements, existing electrical system configuration and fuel flexibility. Control system configuration and needed modifications should be examined using analysis and conceptual design. Other operational needs, as well as potential advantage or impact to existing revenue streams, should also be evaluated.

In preparing a bid, implementation cost, the effect to current operations, project schedule, timing of implementation, procurement needs and permitting requirements are factors, along with startup and commissioning requirements.

PJM RTO utilities that evaluate the RFP criteria properly and undertake the right steps to prepare a competitive bid offering should be well-positioned for this opportunity to become part of the black start service network and the overall PJM grid restoration plan.