Jarrett has served on both the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Part of what makes the United States’ standard of living so high is access to affordable, reliable electricity. Thanks to a robust infrastructure of power generating stations, cities across the nation can enjoy the benefits of water treatment, sanitation, medical services, refrigeration and mass transit. Essentially, we flip a switch and know that our lights will go on, and that our homes will stay warm in winter.
It takes a lot to maintain this large-scale power supply every day, however. And with spikes in electricity use during the busier times of day, power plants must run constantly to ensure an uninterrupted flow of electricity.
Americans might find it discomforting to learn that for the first time in decades the U.S. power grid is showing signs of real strain. A spate of coal plant closures and an uneven transition to natural gas have now created the conditions for potential power shortages during periods of peak demand.
Thankfully, President Trump is taking action to preserve reliable, affordable baseload power. He has tasked the Department of Energy (DOE) with shoring up key coal and nuclear plants that continue to undergird the nation’s power grid. Coal industry critics see this as an unnecessary effort. But America’s power grid is facing real-world challenges that must be addressed.
As just one example, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is projecting possible electricity shortages this summer for Texas and California. Texas has lost roughly 4.5 gigawatts of coal generation because of recent power plant retirements. And California is experiencing troubles with natural gas because of problems at its Aliso Canyon storage facility.
If that weren’t enough, the eastern U.S. power grid narrowly avoided power outages during peak demand this past winter. According to the Department of Energy, coal power plants provided 55 percent of incremental daily U.S. power generation during the harshest parts of winter. The DOE found that “without the resilience of coal plants…the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages.”
The winter cold snap that hit the eastern United Sates was so harsh that all 99 of the nation’s nuclear plants were spun into operation at the same time. In the Midwest, some natural gas power plants had trouble obtaining supplies, forcing outages and an increased reliance on fuel oil. And New England actually ran short on fuel oil, with insufficient natural gas pipeline further complicating the picture.
These are troubling points to ponder because natural gas and renewables have been touted as a panacea for America’s future power grid. But the DOE report found that coal yielded three times the incremental power generation of natural gas and 12 times that of nuclear units. And, wind energy dropped 12 percent lower during a chilly “bomb cyclone” than during a typical winter period, resulting in a need for “dispatchable” coal generation.
Going forward, though, another 12,000 megawatts of coal-fired power is expected to retire this year. And this raises the important question of preparedness. Coal has proven to be the most reliable, affordable option for electricity generation, because coal plants can store on-site fuel supplies, allowing them to run nonstop during long-term weather events. In a nation of more than 325 million people, that’s a crucial consideration.
The Trump Administration is concerned that “impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation’s energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid.” The president sees federal action as a necessary course. The alternative would be to rely on less-secure, less-resilient natural gas and renewable power sources.
President Trump is absolutely right to shore up baseload power. It’s simply a prudent, necessary step to ensure the viability of the nation’s infrastructure. Simply trusting that electricity will always be there overlooks growing challenges to the sturdiness of our power grid. Thankfully, the president is acting now, before real problems start.
See the article here.
- On June 6, 2018