We depend on reliable electricity to energize our homes, our businesses and because so much of what we do depends on having access to energy, any threat to the delivery of such puts our way of life in jeopardy. Threats take many forms from things we can defend against such as cyber attacks to things that are out totally out of our hands such as extreme weather, solar flares or equipment failure.
The strongest present day threat to the U.S. electric grid are EPA regulations that directly shut down coal fired power plants and Congressional subsidies and mandates that increasing force the use of unreliable sources of electricity such as wind and solar power. Together, these policies create a much less reliable grid and increase the chances of a major blackout. As a matter of fact, if federal and state policymakers intentionally set out to cause havoc for grid operators they would be hard pressed to do better than the current policy trajectory according to Economist Travis Fisher in his recent report, Assessing Emerging Policy Threats to the U.S. Power Grid.
EPA’s proposed cut of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30% below 2005 levels by 2020 is the keystone of Obama’s faux climate change agenda and will force 130 gigawatts of power to shut down; 130 gigawatts that would have provided power to 105 million Americans.
After the 2013-2014 polar vortex took power plants offline around the country, American Electric Power had to turn on 89% of their retiring coal fired plants to keep the heat and lights on for Americans covered under record snow falls. Shortages of natural gas in the Northeast caused prices to spike above $100 per mm BTU in some markets and electricity spot prices in the Mid-Atlantic region spiked as high as $2,000 per mega-watt-hour for a brief period. Natural gas was in such high demand for residential furnaces that electricity providers couldn’t even get what they needed for power production forcing them to use back-up generators that burnt far more expensive petroleum or unretired coal fire plants.
How long do you think you can survive without heat? According to the US Energy Information Administration, 90% of coal-fired plants will shut down next year; more than 50,000 megawatts of power will be removed from the grid challenging not only day-to-day power usage but peak demand for extreme temperatures. Natural gas cannot be stored at a power plant like coal or fuel rods at a nuclear plant and it will take years for infrastructure to respond to the weaknesses in natural gas delivery and storage that were exposed during the 2013-14 winter. And if you’re counting on wind or solar to keep you warm, good luck with that!
Assuming a natural gas turbine building boom, paired with a ramping up of gas power plants to full capacity, we could reasonably boost power generation from natural gas by 50% in five years, providing about 13 quads of the 19 needed. To make up the rest of power now generated by coal, we would have to boost the amount of electricity we get from solar and wind about 6 fold to around 50,000 mega-watt-hours per year. Achieving that would require 20% compound annual growth in solar installations for 10 years or about a 9% CAGR for 20 years. The simple reality is that even combined with far more power generation from natural gas, renewable alternatives will need decades to push out coal. And the irony will be that as demand for coal lessens, it will become cheaper and cheaper, making it even more attractive for coal-burning power plants that manage to survive the coming cull.
Coal is reliable in ways that renewable energy sources will never be. And, unless we are willing to put up with blackouts that freeze you in the winter and roast you in the summer heat, coal must remain the backbone of US power generation for decades to come.
Obama’s green agenda based on the global warming scam, state-level renewable energy mandates, the wind production tax credit, and multiple EPA rules targeting coal fired power plants, along with blocking the Keystone XL pipeline will wreck America’s power grid. Today’s electricity policy is a risky nationwide experiment in burning the candle at both ends – something has to give.
Source: EPA C02 Regs, The Most fundamental Transformation of US Power