Protecting Our Electricity Grid

Posted by Mike Duncan at 12:09 pm, April 29, 2014

Last week, I penned a response to National Journal’s “Energy Insiders” on the important topic of securing America’s electricity grid. While we certainly must protect our grid from cyber and physical attacks, we must also be concerned about another critical threat to the grid: power outages and electricity shortages due to reliability.

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller has been vocal recently about these impending energy shortages. At a U.S. Energy Association meeting last week, he warned that the grid will likely stay reliable during mild weather, assuming we don’t experience periods of extreme hot or cold, but this is “not a sound basis of planning,” to hope the thermometer doesn’t tip either direction. This is an important point that should not be lost and something I discussed in my National Journal response.

Here is what I wrote:

 

Grid security has become a hot topic in Washington. Unfortunately, the discussion has focused on just one aspect—cyber security—of a much broader issue. Indeed, there is another security threat to our electric grid that has been downplayed by this administration; a threat that, ironically, has a common-sense and achievable solution.

This past winter brought historically cold temperatures to many parts of the country that resulted in widespread concerns with electric grid reliability. These concerns were well founded as we saw firsthand what happens when politically driven, costly regulations are imposed on coal-based industries that exclude the use of coal from our energy portfolio.

As natural gas price spikes and infrastructure and transport concerns strained the grid, prompting fears of blackouts and brownouts, it is not surprising that utilities turned to coal to ensure the power stayed on. In fact, AEP was running nearly 90 percent of its coal plants currently slated for closure just to help meet demand for power during the coldest days.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy claims that coal will “play a critical role in a diverse U.S. energy mix for years to come” and also alleges her agency is focused on protecting electric reliability. A recent study from ACCCE, however, projects that 25 to 40 percent of the nation’s coal fleet could be shuttered depending on the stringency of EPA’s forthcoming 111(d) proposal, costing consumers $13 billion to $17 billion per year in higher electricity and natural gas prices.

Administrator McCarthy and others in this administration have so far only offered misleading statements about reliability concerns, maintaining that EPA’s regulations will not impact coal usage and that the agency will work to protect and preserve reliability.

We know these claims to be untrue, as EPA greenhouse gas regulations will impose a de facto ban on new coal-fueled power plants and likely force retirements of existing plants across the country which will, in fact, cause serious reliability issues that still haven’t been addressed by this administration.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hosted a hearing on grid reliability, but no representative from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified about these very real reliability concerns associated with the agency’s regulatory assault on coal.

Some members of the committee, like Senators Manchin and Murkowski, raised concerns about how EPA regulations play into the broader grid security issue. Unfortunately, it seems that this administration is doing all it can to quell such concerns and continue leading America toward an energy policy that wholly disregards cost and reliability consequences.

Diminished electric reliability is certainly a threat to our well-being, to our economy and to our national security. It makes America less competitive, and it puts us all in harms’ way. In order to make headway on protecting grid security, we must have a more comprehensive and candid dialogue about all the looming threats.


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