Policy Decisions by Dim Bulbs Leave the U.S. Power Grid Short of Capacity

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AdobeStock Photo by Andrew Gardner

The Washington Post published a news story on June 2nd entitled, “A Summer of Blackouts? Wheezing power grid leaves states at risk.”

Well, yes. Or, as John McClane would say, “Welcome to the party, pals.”

It’s nice of the Green New Deal promoters, who staff the WaPo, to start talking about the new, under-powered reality facing the nation, after leading the cheers for 20 years of under-investment in new baseload capacity in favor of hundreds of billions in subsidies for unreliable and unpredictable wind and solar.

After speaking about nebulous “climate change” impacts being the real problem here, the Post’s writers managed to wander
right up to the precipice of  stumbling across the real problem in this paragraph:

The area, along with large parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other states linked to the regional grid, has been put on notice in the forecast that it is facing a “high risk of energy emergencies during peak summer conditions.” A major reason is that some of the coal plants that regulators assumed would keep running for another year or two are instead coming offline. Some plant operators are choosing to shut down rather than invest in upgrades for coal plants that do not fit with states’ and the federal government’s long-term goals for clean energy.

Oh. But, climate change, right?

Sure. You betcha. We are all expected to believe that the looming blackouts, caused by lack of firm dispatchable capacity, has nothing to do with governmental policies that have literally been designed to crush any new investments in additional, reliable baseload capacity fired by natural gas, coal and nuclear. It’s all because of the catch-all boogeyman of “climate change.”

Mind you: This is not just the case in places like California, New York and Massachusetts, where we all expect to see crazy energy policies. This is happening across the Midwest, the Rocky Mountain states, and even in Texas. Where the grid is concerned, the only real difference between the Democrats who have led California into becoming a third-world energy basket case and the Republicans in Texas is that the Republicans in Texas are moving in the same direction at a slower pace.

If the fatal blackouts in February of last year taught Texans nothing else, they should have awakened everyone to the reality of our grid’s deteriorating situation. While the legislature and Governor Greg Abbott acted to correct some of the many maladies currently impacting the grid and Texans’ energy security, they still have done nothing to encourage the building of new, reliable, 24/7 baseload generating capacity on the state’s power grid.

Sure, we’ve added a bunch of new wind and solar, but wind and solar are useless in a weather emergency, by their own admission. That became quite clear when, in one of the post-freeze legislative hearings that followed the 2021 Big Freeze, the representative for the renewables industry said that her sector had “performed as expected.” A study by Rice University’s Baker Institute showed that wind and solar were the first generation sources to drop off the grid during the freeze, which means they are expected to be useless.

But that reality is not preventing Gov. Abbott and his appointees at the PUC from betting our state’s energy future on wind and solar, and not much else. This is a slow-rolling recipe for disaster, and that disaster could arrive this August if a handful of baseload plants suddenly drop offline unexpectedly, as they did a couple of days in early May. That event forced Texas grid managers at ERCOT to plead with consumers to conserve electricity during a very mild weather day in the spring. What if it happens on an August day when the entire state is seeing temperatures above 100 degrees?

No one seems to be even thinking about what this shrinking baseload capacity all over the country will mean for supposed growth in the electric vehicles industry. We will have to somehow double the generating capacity on the nation’s grids by 2035 just to accommodate the EV growth targets. That isn’t conjecture — it’s what Elon Musk said last September.

Yet, we’re short of capacity in 2022, and our policymakers believe that we can do that with windmills and solar panels made in China. Nevermind that the prices for the array of critical minerals that go into making those things are skyrocketing as they come into ever-shorter supply, or that their supply chains are a mess and getting worse every day. Because, hey, China is this friendly, huggable country that would never try to use its dominance of renewable energy production and supply chains as geopolitical leverage, right?

Sure. You betcha. We’ll go with that.

Historians 50 years from now will be writing entire trilogies of books dedicated to detailing what a pack of short-sighted dim bulbs we have running the country in 2022.

About the author: David Blackmon previously spent 37 years in the oil and natural gas industry in a variety of roles — the last 22 years engaging in public policy issues at the state and national levels.

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