By Hal Quinn
Surging electricity prices during this year’s harsh winter caught many consumers by surprise when their bill came due. The bad news is that electricity costs could get worse in the months and years ahead.
Many consumers already see this coming. According to a new Harris Poll of 2,058 adults conducted in April on behalf of the National Mining Association (NMA), more than three-quarters of Americans — 76 percent — worry that higher prices are ahead if regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) succeed in shutting down coal plants that produce over 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.
It is no surprise that worries over this issue are highest (88 percent) among those who already are particularly sensitive to cost increases, retirees and senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
Their fears are justified. The same survey also found this winter’s high electricity prices hit many Americans hard. Of the 76 percent of consumers responsible for paying their utility bills, more than half — 56 percent — said their day-to-day lives actually were affected by the higher bills this winter.
Those real-life impacts were significant. Almost a third of respondents (32 percent) said they were forced to set thermostats lower than was comfortable, and nearly one-fifth (19 percent) reported that higher electricity costs limited their ability to buy necessities such as food and healthcare—raising the possibility that lower-income households may have been forced to decide between heating their homes or eating a meal.
It’s also important to look at the facts about coal’s contributions to Alabama. Coal generates over one third of Alabama’s electricity and supports 30,000 jobs. And the coal mining industry contributes $1.9 billion in labor income and $3.4 billion to the state GDP.
In other words, coal is not only important to Alabama’s economy, but consumers and businesses alike depend on it as a source of reliable and affordable power.
According to official government estimates, about one-fifth of the country’s coal-powered electricity will be removed from the energy grid by 2020 — perhaps sooner — largely due to EPA’s far-reaching regulations imposed in 2010, along with increased reliance on natural gas. If pending EPA regulations to control greenhouse gas goes forward, electricity will be under greater price pressure as power companies rush to fill the gap from coal plant retirements with less reliable and less affordable sources.
Taking more than 20 percent of current coal-generating plants offline also could result in widespread outages and brownouts for a system already stretched to capacity during cold winters and hot summers. Small wonder 70% of those surveyed are worried about the reliability of their electricity supply.
They aren’t alone. At a recent technical conference examining the winter’s effects on regional transmission operations, America’s top energy regulator agreed. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur said that on some days this past winter, the energy grid was “pushed to the edge,” jeopardizing the grid’s ability to provide uninterrupted electricity to all regions of the country.
This winter served as a warning about the importance of maintaining a diverse energy mix to fulfill the high demands we place on the nation’s power supply. Unfortunately, EPA isn’t listening to that warning, even as experts predict that a less diverse fuel supply may deny households a reliable supply of lowest cost electricity.
EPA’s power plant regulations have moved too far, too fast. And American families are beginning to fear the consequences. They can only hope policymakers realize their mistake before the bills come due.
(Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association, the voice of the American mining industry in Washington, D.C. Membership includes more than 325 corporations involved in all aspects of coal and solid minerals production.)
See article here.