This column originally appeared in The Morning Consult on March 3, 2015.
The Washington Post profiled Sharon Garcia, a single mom from Pueblo, Colorado, last year who suffers from a state policy that shuttered coal plants in favor of costlier, less reliable fuel sources. Ms. Garcia and her family – emblematic of so many other U.S. families – are forced to live in darkness at times, just to conserve energy so as not to face yet another sky-high electricity bill.
As of last July, the Environmental Protection Agency’s power plant regulations have led to the announced retirement or conversion of more than 350 coal-fueled generating units throughout the country. Now, EPA’s most disastrous, not to mention costliest, regulatory measure yet – the Clean Power Plan – threatens to shut down even more of our nation’s coal-based power plants, limiting our supply of affordable electricity and severely impacting the reliability of our electric grid.
EPA wants to supplant coal with resources like natural gas, which poses significant transport issues and price volatility concerns, as well as more renewable resources that are nowhere near “mission ready.” To transform our nation’s power delivery system to fully utilize these unpredictable fuel sources will be a massive, time-consuming and expensive undertaking, projected to cost more than $1 trillion. In the short-term, American consumers will suffer the immediate consequences of power outages and forced electricity conservation.
In its primer on the Clean Power Plan, EPA claims the measure “provides enough time for utilities to make changes without affecting reliability.” EPA Administrator McCarthy also alleges that “EPA is not going to threaten energy reliability.” Electric grid operators, state officials and energy industry experts, however, paint a very different picture of the plan’s impact on electric reliability.
The Southwest Power Pool was among the first grid operators to release a study detailing major concerns with EPA’s proposed regulations, warning of “voltage collapse and blackout conditions” if the plan proceeds as scheduled. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the main grid operator serving 23 million Texans, also issued an analysis of the proposal, which found EPA’s proposal could result in “transmission reliability issues due to the loss of fossil fuel-fired generation resources in and around major urban centers.”
Seventeen former and current public utility and public service commissioners – officials that, unlike EPA, possess substantial knowledge about electricity generation – also joined the chorus of alarmed experts, stating that “Our concern with the EPA’s proposed carbon rules is that they fail to adequately forecast the serious economic and reliability impacts of dramatically reduced or even elimination of coal-fired generation.”
The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council summarized it best in a recent paper, saying “Unfortunately, preliminary analyses released by qualified experts point to one inescapable conclusion: EPA’s proposal puts the reliability of our nation’s electricity supply at risk.”
As a nation, we should be pursuing a smart “all of the above” energy strategy that allows us to protect our environment and harness cleaner energy, but that doesn’t undermine energy reliability in the process. EPA’s dangerous plan must be stopped, before Americans are left without the low-cost, dependable power we need, when we need it the most.