The right mix for U.S. en­ergy

The Community Connection - - OPINION - Terry M. Jar­rett is an en­ergy at­tor­ney and con­sul­tant who has served on both the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Reg­u­la­tory Util­ity Com­mis­sion­ers and the Mis­souri Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion.

Amer­ica’s en­ergy sec­tor has reached an in­ter­est­ing cross­roads.

Af­ter eight years of the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion work­ing to dis­man­tle the na­tion’s coal fleet, the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion has swept into of­fice and up­ended the ap­ple cart.

Ear­lier this year, En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry com­mis­sioned a study to as­sess the health of Amer­ica’s power grid.

His sub­se­quent re­port noted a siz­able de­cline in Amer­ica’s “baseload” power, and urged steps to im­prove the re­li­a­bil­ity of the na­tion’s elec­tric grid.

Over­all, the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion is ad­vo­cat­ing an “all of the above” mix for the na­tion’s power sec­tor.

And this is an em­i­nently sen­si­ble po­si­tion. But in at­tempt­ing to se­cure the na­tion’s power grid, Sec­re­tary Perry is now fac­ing crit­i­cism be­cause he’s cho­sen to pri­or­i­tize re­li­able, prac­ti­cal power gen­er­a­tion over po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Amer­ica’s elec­tric grid de­pends on a bulwark of baseload power to con­tin­u­ously meet the daily op­er­a­tional needs of the en­tire na­tion.

For decades, this mas­sive lift has been un­der­taken by coal and nu­clear plants. How­ever, Amer­ica has lost an un­prece­dented amount of baseload ca­pac­ity in re­cent years. Since 2010, 66 gi­gawatts of coal ca­pac­ity has dis­ap­peared — enough elec­tric­ity to power 40 mil­lion homes.

And by 2020, an es­ti­mated 80 gi­gawatts of coal ca­pac­ity will have been shut down.

No doubt, rising nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion and a decade of crip­pling fed­eral reg­u­la­tions have served to elim­i­nate a sub­stan­tial por­tion of Amer­ica’s coal fleet.

And bank­rupt­cies and cost over­runs have si­mul­ta­ne­ously ham­pered re­place­ments for an ag­ing nu­clear in­dus­try.

But in re­sponse to such a stark prob­lem, Sec­re­tary Perry has pro­posed that the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (FERC) al­low some power plants to re­cover the cost of stor­ing on-site fuel.

Such fuel stor­age al­lows power sta­tions to run non-stop dur­ing ex­treme weather.

Typ­i­cally, Amer­ica’s util­i­ties give pri­or­ity to the low­est-cost en­ergy op­tion for power trans­mis­sion.

But Perry is urg­ing a pric­ing mech­a­nism that would value these plants for their abil­ity to con­tin­u­ally pro­vide power dur­ing dis­rup­tive events like mas­sive storms and frigid win­ters.

Coal and nu­clear plants would ben­e­fit from such a re­vi­sion — since they main­tain lengthy fuel sup­plies, and can typ­i­cally re­main in op­er­a­tion de­spite weather chal­lenges.

In con­trast, nat­u­ral gas plants can fal­ter dur­ing in­ter­rup­tions in pipe­line ser­vice.

And much-touted so­lar pan­els and wind tur­bines are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to storm im­pacts — and only func­tion when the sun shines and the wind blows.

The bot­tom line is that coal and nu­clear plants still pro­duce 50 per­cent of the na­tion’s elec­tric­ity. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant — but de­clin­ing — share of the en­ergy needed to en­sure re­li­able elec­tric­ity.

Thus, Sec­re­tary Perry is sim­ply tak­ing a very real-world ap­proach to a bur­geon­ing prob­lem. For­tu­nately, other steps are un­der­way to help se­cure Amer­ica’s elec­tric­ity sup­ply.

EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt’s has an­nounced a re­peal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would likely spare the pre­ma­ture re­tire­ment of more coal-fired plants that al­ready em­ploy strin­gent emis­sions con­trols while pro­vid­ing 24/7 elec­tric­ity.

Polling shows that 70 per­cent of vot­ers fa­vor a di­verse mix of fuel sources to main­tain grid re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­able power.

So rather than sim­ply take coal and nu­clear power plants off­line, the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion can sup­port a more re­li­able elec­tric grid by en­cour­ag­ing up­grades to ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

These are im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for the com­ing decades, when an ever-grow­ing na­tion will look to keep pow­er­ing its schools, hos­pi­tals, and in­fra­struc­ture.

Sec­re­tary Perry is right to help en­sure a con­tin­u­a­tion of the re­li­able and af­ford­able power that un­der­girds Amer­ica.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.