This commentary originally appeared in Real Clear Energy on April 12, 2016.
Out of vogue are the cries of, “we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil!” Today, “we must pursue renewable sources of energy!” is all the rage. But what is the cost of this vastly different message? Safety. Security.
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan makes carbon reduction, not reliability, price, or safety the priority of the electric grid. But, forced closure of coal-fired power plants, making up nearly 40 percent of the nation's electric generation, will undermine the stability of the entire electric grid and present a significant threat to our national security.
The 2014 winter storm, dubbed the “Polar Vortex,” consumed huge amounts of energy resources, which was reflected when U.S. peak demand occurred at night during the coldest parts of the storm. The peak demand left intermittent, non-dispatchable, renewable generators unable to provide power to millions. As a result, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) expressed concern over several regions where natural gas demand to heat and power homes rose sharply, severely curtailing the availability of natural gas for electric generation. Put simply, homes and power plants were in competition with each other for a limited resource, with power plants were barely able to keep up.
Electric generators and distributors have invested, planned, and trained to ensure the dependability and resiliency of the electric grid so that when emergencies arise, blackouts do not occur. To effectuate this, utilities and their supply chain partners stockpile commodities.
Today, most coal-fired power plants are characterized by their on-site coal reserves which is traditionally a 30-60 day stockpile. In contrast, natural gas is delivered to power plants by pipeline, and the store of gas to these is considered “just-in-time”. This means the power plants have a limited ability to store the natural gas on premises. Supply problems look significantly worse when you factor in that coal can be delivered to virtually anywhere by rail, where natural gas’s delivery is limited to the pipeline infrastructure and capacity in place.
Even the Department of Homeland Security notes the importance of grid stability, stating that “[w]ithout a stable energy supply, health and welfare are threatened, and the U.S. economy cannot function.” By shifting away from coal, the EPA erodes not only a stable energy supply, but also threatens national security and the lives of thousands.
Much has been written on the skyrocketing price of electricity under the Clean Power Plan, but in this scenario, even if you can afford electricity to power and heat and cool your home – you may still not have access. If man-made or natural disasters incapacitate portions of the grid, EPA’s alleged avoid of “2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children” will seem like a pittance in comparison to the real deaths caused by lack of access to electricity.
This is no imagined threat; the news is littered with stories of the results of lack of access to electricity. Sixty-five thousand people suffered heat-stokes and 1,300 died in Pakistan from a massive heat wave and no access to electricity. Nearly 4 million deaths a year in Africa can be directly attributed to the lack of stable and reliable energy – more than HIV and Malaria combined.
Don’t be fooled by Climate Change politics. The EPA is trying to force the United States into energy poverty on a massive scale and erode the foundation of a stable electric grid so that we may reduce the global temperature by an estimated 0.018º C by the year 2100.