Summer is fast approaching and we suggest that you prepare by purchasing a standby generator, if you find one in stock. Last week, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned that two-thirds of the United States could suffer outages this summer. Welcome to the “green energy transition”.
We’ve been warning for years that climate policies would make the grid more vulnerable to fluctuations in supply and demand. And here we are. Some of the mainstream press belatedly understands that blackouts are coming, but they still don’t grasp the real problem: the forced transition to green energy is distorting energy markets and destabilizing the grid.
Progressives attribute grid problems to climate change. There is no doubt that the drought in the western United States is a contributing factor. The NERC report notes that hydroelectric generators in the western United States are operating at lower levels and that output from thermal (i.e. nuclear and fossil) generators that use the Missouri River for cooling could be affected this summer.
But the United States has experienced severe droughts in the past. The problem now is the loss of base load generators that can provide reliable power 24/7. Solar and wind power are increasing rapidly, but they are as erratic as the weather and cannot be commanded to increase when the demand for electricity increases.
One problem is that subsidies allow wind and solar generators to generate profits even when electricity supply exceeds demand. Coal and nuclear power plants, on the other hand, cannot make money by operating only once in a while, which is why many have closed. Natural gas-fired power plants can help fill the void, but there aren’t enough to back up all the renewables coming onto the grid.
California last August rushed to install five emergency gas generators to prevent power outages, but its grid supervisor recently warned of power outages this summer. In past summers, the Golden State has relied on electricity imports from neighboring states. But coal-fired plants across the West have shut down as renewables expand.
The risk is greater if there are forest fires, which could disrupt transmission lines. Progressives say building more transmission lines to bring renewable energy from rural areas to cities and suburbs will make the grid more resilient. But it can create new vulnerabilities. A tornado this winter damaged a transmission line in the Midwest and increased the risk of power outages this summer as repairs continue.
Midwestern manufacturers have relied on cheap, reliable power, but that may be a thing of the past. NERC says the Midwest this summer is at very high risk for power outages, especially if there is little wind. That’s because 3,200 MW of net generating capacity, mostly coal and nuclear, has been shut down since last summer. That’s enough to power about 2.4 million homes.
The threat to the Midwest grid will increase in coming years as new coal and nuclear power plants shut down. Electricity supplier Vistra has announced it will phase out 6,800MW of coal-fired power by 2027, blaming an “irretrievably dysfunctional” market and state subsidies for renewables. The first is partly the result of the second.
“We don’t have the ability to just shut down a facility for four hours, six hours, or eight hours,” Illinois Manufacturers Association CEO Mark Denzler told the Center Square newsletter recently. “If you’re making certain products, take a food product for example, you can’t just shut down and leave that food on the line.”
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker recently said he doesn’t expect power outages since the state can buy power from its neighbors. He better read the NERC report. Most Democrats don’t seem to recognize or care that their climate policies are making the grid less resilient and less reliable. Instead, they double.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick brushed off NERC’s warnings last week: “I think the argument of going back to what it was 30 years ago doesn’t won’t happen,” he said. “We are moving forward” with the green energy transition. Believe it or not, FERC is the agency responsible for ensuring grid reliability.
President Biden has reappointed Mr. Glick for a second five-year term, and he’s counting on the FERC chairman to implement his climate agenda. This winter, he and the two other Democratic commissioners imposed regulations requiring greenhouse gas emissions analysis for gas pipelines even as Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border.
Mr Glick shelved the policy after heavy criticism from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, but is likely to revive it once reconfirmed. His renomination is a clear and present danger to the electricity supply of the United States. The war in Ukraine and soaring energy prices have not deterred the Democrats from launching their campaign against fossil fuels. Are there widespread power outages?
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Appeared in the print edition of May 28, 2022.