Is the shutdown of “base-load” coal and nuclear plants harmful? These are the power plants capable of reliably providing electricity 24/7. By comparison, natural gas plants are susceptible to widely varying gas prices, and wind and solar are dependent upon weather conditions. Should something be done to prevent the further loss of large amounts of coal and nuclear power?
We are witnessing extraordinary events in the electric power sector. The National Electric Reliability Council recently warned that the country faces operational and potential reliability concerns this summer. The most vulnerable areas are Texas and Southern California, where a loss of existing baseload power together with a shortage of natural gas for electricity production is something that reveals real weaknesses and lapses in our energy preparedness.
Uncertainty about the weather is part of the problem. On the East Coast, what’s known as a “bomb cyclone” wreaked havoc this past winter. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory warned that that the performance of the electric grid during the severe storm illustrated the critical importance of base-load power in keeping the lights on. “U.S. electricity marketplace experience demonstrated that without the resilience of coal plants – its ability to add 24-hour baseload capacity – the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages, likely leading to widespread blackouts.”
The United States relies on coal and nuclear power for about 50 percent of its electricity. If action is not taken to save coal and nuclear plants, especially those that are financially-stressed due to the current availability of cheap natural gas, many of the base-load plants won’t be available to come to the rescue next time they’re needed. The looming prospect of a large part of the nation’s baseload power supply vanishing is “harmful to American interests,” said Kevin McIntyre, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The implications of this are disquieting. Missouri relies on coal and nuclear power plants for nearly 90 percent of its electricity. But many other states are not so fortunate – California, Texas, Florida and the New England region depend on natural gas for more than 75% of their electricity. And a continuing loss of coal and nuclear plants is exposing consumers to significantly higher energy prices.
Since 2010, electric utilities have decided to shut down more than 100,000 megawatts of coal power, and another 17,000 megawatts are expected to be lost by 2020. A half-dozen safe and efficient nuclear plants have closed, and others are at risk of being retired prematurely. Once a nuclear plant is shut down and decommissioned, it can’t be started up again. Since cheap shale gas is currently replacing coal and nuclear power, these baseload plants won’t be available to protect consumers should the price of natural gas suddenly spiral upward as it has done numerous times in the past.
An assured supply of affordable and reliable electricity is vital. Because coal and nuclear power have a proven record of dependability, government action is needed to protect consumers from the destructive effects of wide swings in gas prices. Saving coal and nuclear plants is part of the solution.
Taking steps to maintain electric grid reliability is not cost free, but the real question is how much will it cost us – the American people – if we fail to tackle the issue of premature power-plant shutdowns now. The costs of inaction are huge and unacceptable when the lights go out.
See the article here.
- On July 9, 2018