The PJM Interconnection Board, whose electric transmission grid serves 61 million people in 13 states and the District of Columbia, on Wednesday approved $4.6 billion in additions and upgrades, including a $1.2 billion project in northern New Jersey to address short circuit and thermal problems in that area.

"With more than 20,000 MW of generation retiring in the PJM region and new gas plants being built in various locations to replace them, it's essential for the transmission system to keep pace," said CEO Terry Boston. "The good news is that we continue to identify and approve projects needed to make the grid more reliable and resilient."

The grid operator now serves people living in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Last year Pennsylvania regulators approved the first Marcellus Shale-driven gas plant; other gas-fired projects are underway (see Daily GPI, Aug. 30;Oct. 12, 2012).

Genscape Inc.'s Stephen Maestranzi, who directs publications, told NGI earlier this month that in "the much longer term...coal retirements need to be watched" but said he felt that the retirements would be slower than most expect (see Daily GPI, Dec. 4). He pointed to PJM and said recently a few First Energy Corp. plants that were supposed to retire were asked to remain on line "and I wouldn't be surprised if that happens more than a few times down the road."

First Energy had been preparing to deactivate two coal-fired generators in southwestern Pennsylvania, but the company and lawmakers questioned that decision and asked why more consideration wasn't given to switching the fuel sources to natural gas (see Daily GPI, Oct. 8).

More than $3 billion of the changes approved for PJM's system would be upgrades to connect new generating facilities.

Baseline reliability projects with a total estimated cost of $1.5 billion were identified in 15 different utility territories, including a 500-kV line within an existing right-of-way in the Dominion region, substations in several regions to reinforce lower voltage systems and additional upgrades to improve the grid's reliability.

Because of the combined effects of other planned transmission upgrades, adjustments in annual load forecasts, generation retirements and other factors, some previously approved transmission projects have been canceled because they no longer needed, the board noted. Among the projects removed from transmission plan is the Toronto-Harmon 345-kV line in FirstEnergy's American Transmission System Inc.'s territory.

Since the PJM Regional Transmission Expansion Planning process began in 2000, the board said it had approved a net $28.9 billion in transmission investment.