You’d think the Texas blackouts would trigger some soul-searching about the vulnerability of America’s electrical grid. Not in today’s hothouse of climate politics. The Biden Administration is already moving to stop an examination of grid vulnerability to promote unreliable renewable energy sources.
Regulators have been warning for years that the grid is becoming shakier as cheap natural gas and heavily subsidized renewables replace steady coal and nuclear baseload power. “The nation’s power grid will be stressed in ways never before experienced” due to “an unprecedented resource-mix change,” the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned in 2011.
It added: “Environmental regulations are shown to be the number one risk to reliability over the next one to five years.” But the Obama Federal Energy Regulatory Commission(FERC) refused to consider how climate policies would affect reliability. Since 2011 about 90 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity have shut down, replaced by some 120 GW of wind and solar and 60 GW of gas power capacity.
But renewables don’t generate power around-the-clock as gas, nuclear and coal do. Gas plants depend on just-in-time fuel deliveries, which aren’t reliable in extreme weather. Government-made pipeline bottlenecks constrain deliveries in the Northeast. Liberals also say Texas could have better weathered the Arctic blast if its grid didn’t rely almost entirely on in-state power.
But the Southwest Power Pool, north of Texas, and the Midwest power grid—both of which rely heavily on wind backed by gas—also experienced power outages last week due to declining surging demand, wind production and gas shortages. California relies on gas and imports to back up its solar power. But last summer California couldn’t get enough power from its neighbors amid a heat wave that strained the entire Western grid. Hydropower from the Northwest and coal from Utah couldn’t stop blackouts.
The wind lobby says Texas should have required thermal (nuclear, gas, coal) plants to be weatherized to withstand single-digit temperatures. Perhaps, but wind still performed the worst during the blackout, generating power at 12% of its capacity compared to 76% for nuclear, 39% for coal, and 38% for gas, according to a data analysis by the Center of the American Experiment.
The ice-cold reality is that grid regulators across the U.S. are struggling to keep the power on during extreme weather. They have been able to avoid more blackouts by ordering energy conservation. But Texas shows that conservation isn’t enough, as government mandates make America more reliant on electric power for everything from heating to cars.
Most Texans use electricity for heating. Many pipeline gas compressors are electrified due to federal emissions rules so the blackouts limited gas deliveries to power plants. They also shut down water pumps and treatment centers.
Yet progressives want to make Americans even more dependent on the grid by banning gas hookups in homes and mandating electric cars. This is a recipe for blackouts nationwide as coal and nuclear plants retire because they can’t compete against subsidized renewables. New England’s grid operator in 2018 predicted outages in the winter of 2024-2025 in most cases it analyzed.
Blame in part New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has blocked new gas pipelines from Pennsylvania to his state and New England. He has also ordered the Indian Point nuclear plant, which has historically provided a third of the Big Apple’s power, to close this April. Renewables generate 2% of downstate power, so New York will depend more on gas, which means less for New England. New York’s grid operator recently warned of “resource gaps” and “energy shortfalls.”
In 2018 FERC finally began examining these grid resilience challenges. But its new Democratic Chairman,
closed the inquiry last week. He cited the lack of regulatory action, but the real reason is that grid resilience conflicts with the Biden climate agenda.
Mr. Glick also ordered a review of FERC’s gas-pipeline permitting to address effects on “environmental justice communities” such as Native Americans and minorities and “ways in which the Commission may mitigate those effects.” He is soliciting public comment on a compressor station in Weymouth, Mass., that has increased gas flow to New England.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the climate lobby want the compressor shut down to keep more gas in the ground, no matter if the resulting power shortfalls and price spikes harm low-income communities. “On top of being unlawful, the Order is bad policy,” Republican Commissioner
said in dissent, adding it “impairs regulatory certainty and arrogates to the Commission authority it does not have.”
When the blackouts arrive, don’t say Americans weren’t warned.
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