‘The system is closer to the edge,’ America’s grid reliability watchdog warns
America’s increased reliance on green energy in favor of coal and gas has a majority of the United States facing an “elevated risk” of summer power blackouts, according to a leading grid reliability watchdog.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) last week published its 2023 summer reliability assessment, which found that two-thirds of North America could face power shortages this summer during periods of extreme heat. That vulnerability, the watchdog group said, stems from America’s increase in green power generation and decrease in fossil fuel power plants. While coal and natural gas plants can be turned on and off at the flip of a switch, green alternatives such as wind and solar rely on favorable weather conditions to operate at full capacity. If those conditions aren’t met, power demand can outpace supply.
“The system is closer to the edge,” NERC director of reliability assessment and performance analysis John Moura said last week. “More needs to be done.”
Moura is far from the only expert sounding the alarm on America’s unreliable power grid. Both state and federal officials in recent weeks have warned that high summer temperatures, combined with low nightly winds, could bring power blackouts across the country. “I’m afraid to say it, but I think the United States is heading towards a catastrophic situation,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Mark Christie said during a May Senate hearing.
Despite those warnings, President Joe Biden has moved forward with plans to accelerate U.S. coal plant retirements. With nearly half of America’s coal power already set to disappear by 2030, Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month unveiled new standards that force coal and gas power plants to slash their carbon emissions by a whopping 90 percent between 2035 and 2040. In order to meet the near-impossible standards, those plants will have to spend big on infrastructure upgrades—costs that may prompt the plants to shut down rather than comply.
“Coal is more than five times as dependable as wind and more than twice as dependable as solar when electricity demand is greatest,” America’s Power CEO Michelle Bloodworth said in a statement, “yet bad public policy and EPA regulations are forcing the closure of coal plants.”
In addition to his far-reaching fossil fuel regulations, Biden has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks and subsidies aimed at increasing electric car use. And in April, Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule that imposes strict tailpipe emission limits on vehicles sold—so strict that it effectively forces automakers to ensure that two-thirds of the cars they sell are electric by 2032.
Those moves could also put strain on the nation’s power grid. As more Americans plug in their cars instead of filling them up with gasoline, grids across the country will need to put out more power to keep up. The issue has already plagued some U.S. states—in September, for example, California urged electric car drivers to stop charging their vehicles due to power grid strain. Still, the ordeal did not stop state officials from moving full steam ahead with plans to outlaw gas-powered vehicles and eradicate fossil fuel power plants.
“We understand we cannot have the lights go off,” California Energy Commission vice chair Siva Gunda told the Washington Post. “But the fear of these questions being brought up is not a reason to slow down from what we know is morally and societally what we need to do.”
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