By Brian Grimmett, KMUW, Wichita’s NPR Station
The way Westar Energy runs its coal plants in Kansas unnecessarily costs consumers millions of dollars a year through an obscure, if common, practice known as self-committing generation. The company essentially runs its coal plants year-round, even during the winter months when it’s not cost-effective. An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for reduced reliance on coal, says that’s been costing Westar customers $20 million a year in added fuel costs.
But market operators including the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) — Westar buys and sells wholesale electricity through the organization — worry that the practice hurts the market. Regulators in Missouri, where Westar’s parent company Evergy is headquartered, have opened up an investigation to see if it’s unfairly costing consumers. Continue reading here.
Photo: Joseph Daniel, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been studying self-committing or self-scheduling generation in power markets for years. Daniel recently completed an analysis screening of every coal-fired power plant that operates in the Southwest Power Pool (Nebraska’s Regional Transmission Organization) and other RTOs. He describes the analysis in an interview included in the following article on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ blog:
The Billion-Dollar Coal Bailout Nobody Is Talking About: Self-Committing In Power Markets
Markets are supposed to ensure that all power plants are operated from lowest cost to most expensive. Self-committing allows expensive coal plants to cut in line, pushing out less expensive power generators such as wind, depriving those units from operating and generating revenue.
– Joseph Daniel
Additional Recommended Reading
- Are old Midwest coal plants pushing renewables offline?, E&E News
The utility process of self-committing or self-scheduling power plants to run even when there’s cheaper energy available on the grid is a complex issue and opaque to outsiders. Increasingly, there are questions about whether it’s slowing a transition to cleaner energy.
- Trump to toss lifeline to coal plants. Will it work?, E&E News
Just 99 of the American Public Power Association’s roughly 2,000 member utilities have an ownership stake in a coal plant.
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