Co-Located Data Center, Nuclear Plant Power Deal Draws Rapid Ire From Industry

Published: July 2, 2024

By: Concentric Staff Writer

A proposal for a special arrangement whereby a planned Amazon data center would be directly supplied by a co-located nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania sent rapid ripples across the industry this month. Other users of the transmission system are sounding the alarm over its possible effects on other customers and the precedent it could set, supported by Concentric Energy Advisors (Concentric).

There has been a quick line-up of parties filing to intervene in reaction to the proposal filed on June 3 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the PJM Interconnection LLC (PJM), the grid operator of the mid-Atlantic region including 13 states and the District of Columbia. The deal concerns a data center campus formerly owned by Talen Energy that the company sold to Amazon Web Services for $650 million earlier this year and sits next to the 2,514-megawatt (MW) Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, which Talen Energy also owns. Amazon plans to develop a large data center at the site to be powered by the close-by nuclear plant, which would be the largest such installation in U.S. history.

The proposal filed by and for PJM as transmission provider, Susquehanna Nuclear LLC as interconnection customer, and PPL Electric Utilities Corporation would amend the existing interconnection service agreement (ISA) to raise from 300 megawatts to 480 MW the amount of co-located load from the data center and make other revisions and changes [Docket No. ER24-2172].

Concentric is among the commenters; on June 24 filing an affidavit from Chairman of the Board, John Reed and Chief Executive Officer, Danielle Powers. Concentric, drawing from its decades of experience in utility regulation, filed the affidavit in support of a protest of PJM’s filing that was submitted to FERC by Exelon Corporation (Exelon) and American Electric Power Service Corporation (AEP).

“The significance of this case lies in its potential to set far-reaching precedents for how similar situations will be handled in the future,” the Concentric filing says. “The sheer scale of the Co-Located Load presents unique challenges and complexities that have not been encountered before on such a magnitude.”

Ms. Powers, in an interview, said that the proposed amendment to the ISA provided little detail on the costs to other customers. It is this lack of detail and impact on customers that are so important to understand and why FERC must set this matter for hearing, she said.

“We need to understand what the issues are and what you are requiring of both the generator and the co-located load,” Ms. Powers said of the amended ISA. “Since the load is located behind the generator, there are many unanswered questions around how much and how the generator offers its capacity and energy into the PJM wholesale markets, and what the co-located load will or should pay under the PJM Open Access Transmission Tariff.” She also said that PJM and market participants have been involved in lengthy discussions on how to deal with co-located load and have been unable to come to a consensus. A filing places these unresolved issues in front of the FERC, she said.

The Concentric affidavit says there are substantial implications for the case as it could “fundamentally impact the regulatory landscape, influencing how regulators address cost allocation and rate design.” If the agreement results in significant avoided costs it could lead to other similar arrangements, leading to widespread cost-allocation issues and leaving unresolved questions of cost responsibility for using the electric grid, the filing says. The cost shift could be up to $140 million per year and the avoided transmission component makes up approximately 98 percent of the avoided costs, Concentric said.

In the protest filed by Exelon and AEP, the two companies said the matter must be set for hearing because of many unresolved facts and that it includes “by the filing’s own admission, an ISA that establishes novel configuration.” If FERC does not set the matter for hearing, it should reject the ISA amendment because it amounts to an “end run” around PJM’s stakeholder process and violates PJM’s tariff by creating a new type of load, the protest says.

“The Parties’ non-conforming ISA must be set for hearing because it raises more questions than it answers,” Exelon and AEP said. “Given the scant information provided in the transmittal, absent further factual development, the Commission will be unable to make an informed decision whether to accept the ISA and parties to the proceeding will be denied necessary notice and opportunity to raise informed protests before the Commission.”

There are huge financial consequences around the filing as there are likely to be many other similar situations, the protest says, and in the absence of other precedent, it is reasonable to think that other parties could take a similar approach.

“The number of expected, non-conforming ISAs that the filing anticipates could have a profound effect on the market,” the protest says. “Should large quantities of load rush to co-locate with generation on terms that bear even a resemblance to the ISA at issue here, PJM capacity markets will have steadily decreasing volume as the capacity resources flee to serve load that uses and benefits from—but does not pay for—the transmission system and the ancillary services that keep the system running.”

But Talen Energy (Talen) fired back in the public arena, on June 27 issuing a press release characterizing the proposal as a new way to deal with rising data center demand. Powering this new category will require both metered and behind-the-meter solutions, the company said.

“Exelon and AEP’s protest of the Susquehanna ISA is a misguided attempt to stifle this innovation by interfering with an ISA amendment agreed to and supported by all impacted parties – which Exelon and AEP decidedly are not,” the press release says. “The factual recitations in the protest are demonstrably false. The legal positions are demonstrably infirm.”

Nearly all of the issues raised by Exelon and AEP are not even subject to FERC oversight, Talen argued, because transmission is not implicated, and Talen has a right to contract with Amazon for long-term, committed power. It also said that PPL agrees that Talen has the right to sell power directly to Amazon, and the filing is supported by PJM, it said.

The proposal to FERC by PJM and others involved in the co-located data center/power plant project raises many new questions regarding what is being recognized as a new frontier in energy infrastructure development. As of June 29, there were 33 motions to intervene filed in the docket.

All views expressed by the author are solely the author’s current views and do not reflect the views of Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries, related companies, or clients. The author’s views are based upon information the author considers reliable at the time of publication. However, neither Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., nor its affiliates, subsidiaries, and related companies warrant the information’s completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.

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