How To Fix America’s Electricity Emergency

power lines

America’s grid is in decline and about to get far worse due to policies that 1) reward unreliable electricity, 2) prematurely shut down coal plants, 3) criminalize nuclear, and 4) force EV use.

Here’s what’s happening and how to fix it. [bold, links added]

A reliable grid is a foundation of our quality of life. Our lives depend on ultra-reliable electricity for the refrigerators that preserve our food, the water treatment plants that keep our water drinkable, the air conditioning that keeps us cool, the factories that produce our goods, etc.

Ominously, our grid is in an increasingly fragile state. Not only have we recently had statewide blackouts in California (2020) and Texas (2021), this summer shortages are occurring all around the US.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Commissioner Mark Christie puts it bluntly “We’re heading for a reliability crisis.”

The root cause of our grid’s reliability problems is simple: America is shutting down too many reliable power plants—plants that can be controlled to produce electricity when needed in the exact quantity needed. And it is attempting to replace them with unreliable solar and wind.

Since at any given time solar and wind can go near zero, using them as replacements for reliable power plants doesn’t work. For example, Texas’s February 2021 disaster was caused by solar/wind disappearing and inadequate investment in reliable power plants and their weatherization.

Grid operators around the country are warning us that we are retiring too many reliable power plants. MISO—the Midcontinent Independent System Operator—recently released this chart, showing a decline in “accredited capacity” “due to thermal retirements” and increasing solar/wind.

Nationally, as demand has increased over the last 10 years we have seen a decline in reliable capacity (gas, coal, oil, nuclear, hydro, battery storage) by 5%.

Decreasing reliable capacity as demand increases is “reliability chicken”: trying to get away with minimal reliable capacity, then hoping the weather cooperates—not increasing demand by getting too hot or too cold, and not decreasing supply by being too cloudy or too calm.

The Feb 2021 blackouts in Texas show how dangerous “reliability chicken” can be. Texas’s grid planners hoped it wouldn’t get very cold and that the wind wouldn’t falter too much so their lack of reliable capacity (and resiliency investment) wouldn’t be exposed. But hoping doesn’t work.

The 2020 blackouts in California also show the danger of “reliability chicken.” California retired lot of in-state reliable electric generation capacity and hoped that favorable weather conditions and other available imports from other states would save them. Again, hoping doesn’t work.

Governments need to recognize the reliability crisis and fight it. Instead, they are planning to make the problem far, far worse via policies that will shut down many more reliable power plants while increasing electricity demand.

Our reliability problems are scheduled to get far worse

Looking at the publicly announced plans of utilities, which are largely determined by government policies, we are scheduled to see many more shutdowns of reliable power plants in favor of unreliable solar/wind.

This year grid operators planned on retiring about 15 GW of reliable capacity and replacing it with only about 12 GW of reliable generation—which has recently become 10 GW as two nuclear units have been delayed until 2023. Every decline in reliable capacity makes the grid worse.

Will batteries make unreliable solar/wind reliable? No. Battery storage is expensive and can only provide a given “capacity” (e.g., 1 GW) for a few hours, and only then if fully charged. Planned batteries are nowhere near enough to compensate for solar and wind’s unreliability.

The next 7.5 years are scheduled to be a bloodbath of reliable capacity retirements. There are 93 GW of announced coal plant retirements, plus up to 92 more GW are at risk of retiring early due to new Environmental Protection Agency rules. That’s almost ⅕ of our already-scarce reliable capacity shut down.

If coal plants will be replaced by plenty of reliable natural gas plants, that would be one thing. But utilities are not planning nearly enough gas plants to offset the likely shutdown of reliable coal plants.

Will our rapid shutdown of coal plants that make up ⅕ of our reliable capacity be offset by new nuclear plants? Not remotely. Here are the minuscule plans for nuclear compared to the plans for unreliable solar/wind through 2030.

To solve the reliability crisis we must understand and reverse the four policies turning America’s grid into a Third-World grid:

1) rewarding unreliable electricity

2) imposing ruinous Environmental Protection Agency rules on power plants

3) criminalizing nuclear

4) forcing electric vehicle use

Grid-destroying policy 1: Rewarding unreliable electricity

Governments need to stop rewarding unreliable electricity by a) pricing unreliable electricity with no cost penalty, b) subsidizing unreliable generators, and c) mandating significant percentages of unreliables.

Stop pricing unreliable electricity with no cost penalty

In every area of life we pay far more for a reliable service than for an unreliable one. But in electricity, unfair rules make utilities pay the same prices for unreliable solar/wind electricity as they do for reliables.

Grids need to recognize that unreliable electricity is fundamentally different and far less valuable (sometimes it’s even a burden) than reliable electricity, and pay for unreliable electricity (or not) accordingly.

One way to stop vastly overpaying for unreliable electricity is: require all generators to meet certain reliability standards.

Generators would still be able to use solar/wind if they took responsibility for combining it with reliables and/or storage to guarantee reliability.

At minimum, grids must stop attributing fantasy reliability to solar and wind—which causes them to vastly overvalue solar and wind and make reckless plans. E.g., a typical grid will treat it as certain that at peak demand 15% of wind and 50% of solar “capacity” will work.

Given the unpredictability of weather and peak demand timing even a month ahead, the effective reliable capacity of solar/wind is near 0. Even if we can expect some wind to blow somewhere in a grid area, it might be much less or more than expected, causing problems either way.

Stop subsidizing unreliable generators

Subsidies for unreliable electricity, above all the Investment Tax Credit and the Production Tax Credit, force taxpayers to pay utilities to slow down or shut down reliable power plants whenever the sun shines or the wind blows.

Solar/wind subsidies are driving reliable power plants out of business, leading to higher costs and lower reliability.

Ominously, our government recently extended them indefinitely.

Read rest here Energy Talking Points

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