With coal and nuclear power plants closing and utilities adding renewable sources of power at a breakneck pace, it could appear at first glance that renewables are winning the energy marketplace. Appearances can be deceiving.
Baseload coal and nuclear plants, and even some nearly brand-new natural gas plants, are being pushed aside not by cheap wind and solar power but rather by renewable subsidies and mandates that continue to upend electricity markets.
Fourteen coal plants have shut down in Pennsylvania since 2010, and the Bruce Mansfield plant, the state’s largest coal plant, is slated to close shortly. The Three Mile Island nuclear plant recently closed, and the two-unit Beaver Valley nuclear plant is at risk of being shut down. This is a crisis with deep ramifications for the reliability and affordability of our supply of electricity.
Our economy requires full-time power. Wind and solar are neither. While proponents of renewables are quick to note that wind and solar power are gaining ground, the technology for utility-scale storage of electricity for use when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining is in its infancy. The very best grid-scale lithium-ion batteries can store just four hours of backup power; that’s hardly enough to account for the days or weeks when wind and solar generation are no-shows. Consider that in 2017, California went 90 days with little or no wind power, including several multi-day gaps.
Given that energy costs are likely to be one of the big political issues of the next few years, it’s worth understanding who really pays what for renewables. Once you do, you get a sense for the continuing importance of nuclear power and coal. A University of Chicago study found that consumers paid $125.2 billion more for electricity in the seven years after 29 states adopted renewable energy mandates requiring increasing levels of production of wind and solar power.
The perceived wisdom underlying the energy debate is that the nation should reduce carbon emissions without imposing higher energy costs. But state renewable portfolio standards already in place are eating away at the affordability and reliability of the electric grid. Increasingly aggressive goals for renewable adoption are imposing rising costs on consumers while pushing essential baseload power plants into early retirement.
This push for renewables has led to unintended consequences – an electricity crisis in Texas this summer that caused power costs to jump a staggering 9,000 percent almost overnight and nearly resulted in the collapse of the state’s power grid. The rise of heavily subsidized wind power in Texas – which now meets 20 percent of the state’s electricity demand – has knocked desperately needed coal capacity into early retirement. When a stretch of triple-digit temperatures hit the state and electricity demand soared, wind generation couldn’t keep up. The hot, humid air in West Texas was so calm that hundreds of wind turbines stopped spinning. Coal capacity that could have helped ensure reliability, was gone.
The question of how best to maintain a balanced mix of energy sources is a serious matter and deserves a serious discussion. But too much of the criticism of coal and nuclear power is based on emotion, half-truths and politics. That’s too bad because the benefits of having enough baseload power is a matter that desperately needs to be addressed.
In Texas, the idea that over-reliance on heavily subsidized wind power would lead to the loss of baseload electricity, undermine the electric grid and nearly cause statewide blackouts would have been laughed off twenty years ago. No one is laughing now. We need true market competition to ensure affordable, reliable and increasingly clean power. Thanks to ever-mounting subsidies and mandates for renewables, we have anything but.
See the article here.
- On October 4, 2019