The clash between environmental and energy reality versus idealism reached a crossroads in Denver this week when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) convened in a technical conference on Feb. 25. The meeting concerned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s self-titled “Clean Power Plan,” which would effectively regulate-away the ability of existing power plants to produce the affordable electricity on which countless Coloradans rely to heat and cool their homes and keep the lights on. While we should be working toward creating win-win outcomes through an all-of-the-above energy solution and responsible environmental safeguards, all the focus so far by the Administration and their supporters has been on picking winners and losers, embracing only what the EPA anoints as “clean” energy. Now, FERC will finally have a chance to weigh in on “power” — what it takes to reliably operate our increasingly strained electricity delivery system under EPA’s overreaching plan.
In Colorado, we’ve successfully maintained a diverse energy portfolio that has kept rates reasonable overall, provided a stable power supply and a healthy, clean environment. EPA’s plan, however, would slash coal use an additional 37 percent, which is a readily available resource Colorado relies upon for more than 60 percent of our electricity. EPA promises that boosting renewable generation an additional 36 percent will offset this drastic cut when coupled with forcing Colorado families and businesses, many of which are already struggling to get by on tight budgets, to invest hundreds of billions to substantially reduce their own electricity use. But intermittent renewables like wind and solar cannot substitute for baseload power — the electricity we need day-in, day-out, rain or shine, breezy or not. While phasing out traditional energy resources to the extent EPA would like will have virtually no effect on global greenhouse gas emissions, it does spell serious trouble for the U.S. power grid.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is confident that her agency’s plan will work. But seeing that electricity can reliably flow to where it’s sorely needed is not her agency’s area of expertise. In fact, EPA has a woeful record of accurately predicting the impacts of its regulations on the nation’s power grid. That falls under FERC’s purview, but so far EPA has crafted its regulatory plan without any meaningful involvement from FERC. That is simply unacceptable since FERC’s purpose is to guarantee we have a reliable supply of electricity.
FERC now must get involved because EPA chose to go at it alone without consideration that its proposed actions would drastically jeopardize our power supply. Congressional inquiry has determined EPA did not share any meaningful details of its plan with FERC and, more important, didn’t consult FERC about whether or not its regulatory agenda would impact the reliability of our power grid. Many experts agree that EPA’s lopsided focus threatens reliable operation of an energy delivery system made more brittle by a cascade of EPA regulations that failed to account for their cumulative consequences.
Be at home or on the factory floor, we summon electricity with the flick of a switch or punch of a power button. Assuring something happens when we do, involves thousands of hardworking Coloradans operating a staggeringly complex energy delivery infrastructure that not only includes the wires we see and pipelines we don’t, but power plant switchyards we never think about and dispatch centers few of us even know exist.
This is a world of technology that anticipates our need for electricity an instant before we want it there, balances fluctuations in the availability of resources in the nano-seconds it takes to ramp up an alternative source — then back it off or send it somewhere else the instant the situation changes. EPA’s short-sighted regulations up-end that system, and system failure disrupts our nation’s lifeblood.
Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Colo., represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, and serves as the vice chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.