The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, or NARUC, has launched a 15-month effort to improve coordination between the electric and natural gas sectors, ultimately aimed at bolstering the reliability of the nation’s power grid.
The Gas-Electric Alignment for Reliability initiative, known as GEAR, will bring together a group of state regulators and stakeholders “to develop solutions to better align the gas and electric industries to maintain and improve the reliability of both energy systems on which our nation depends for power,” NARUC announced Wednesday.
Electric generators are “more reliant than ever” on natural gas, NARUC noted. However, because residential customers also utilize gas to heat their homes in some regions, generators can find themselves with limited access to fuel during severe cold weather.
“The safety and reliability of the grid is job number one for regulators and the power sector,” NARUC President Julie Fedorchak said in a statement. She is also a North Dakota Public Service Commission regulator.
“GEAR will zero in on one of our biggest reliability risks, the [misalignment] of the gas and electric power systems,” Fedorchak said.
During Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, for example, some Texas electric companies cut power to gas facilities as part of their emergency conservation response. That reduced fuel supplies to gas-fired power plants, contributing to energy shortages and blackouts. Almost 250 people died during the storm.
NARUC’s effort “will bring together key industry experts with the perspectives and experience needed to get to the root of these persistent problems and develop some solutions,” Fedorchak said.
GEAR membership is still being finalized but Fedorchak has appointed Georgia Commissioner Tricia Pridemore as working group chair and New Hampshire Commissioner Carleton Simpson as vice chair. Other members include Michigan Commissioner Daniel Scripps, Arizona Commissioner Lea Márquez Peterson, Texas Commissioner Jimmy Glotfelty and Minnesota Chair Katie Sieben.
The group will also include representatives to be named later from each of the following: a gas utility, electric utility, grid operator, intrastate and interstate pipelines, a gas producer and a gas processor.
NARUC is not the first group to study gas-electric coordination, and said it plans on using previous efforts in developing its own recommendations.
The North American Energy Standards Board issued a July report with 20 recommendations to harmonize the gas and electric sectors. Among them, the group called on state utility regulators to encourage utilities to develop demand response programs “in preparation for and during events in which demand is expected to rise sharply for both electricity and natural gas.”
According to the working group’s charter, NARUC’s GEAR plans to give a status report on its efforts at the November 2024 NARUC annual meeting and develop a final report and recommendations by February 2025, ahead of NARUC’s Winter Policy Summit.