The Community Connection

US electricit­y grid isn’t ready for more electric vehicles

- By Matthew Kandrach Guest columnist Matthew Kandrach is president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market advocacy organizati­on.

America’s energy future will be shaped to a significan­t degree by two new tensions that are rapidly converging. A massive number of electric vehicles (EVs) will soon be populating our roads, but our nation’s electric grid is woefully unprepared to supply the additional capacity required to fuel these vehicles. Even this summer, the entire Western electricit­y grid is facing the threat of blackouts for lack of adequate supply. If our transporta­tion future is transition­ing toward electric, something has to give.

The rolling blackouts that stunned California last summer were apparently a preview of a far larger problem The Western Electricit­y Coordinati­ng Council is warning that the West simply doesn’t have enough power supply to meet a region-wide period of high demand.

The rush to invest in renewable power and push aside existing baseload generation — namely coal capacity — has left Western states perilously dependent on power imports. Relying on imports can work when it’s just one state that’s short on power. But what happens if an entire region is facing high demand?

Should a heatwave hit multiple states, there will be no power surplus to move around. When demand races past supply, just as it did last summer in California, grid operators will have no choice but to cut power for millions.

Across the West, increased investment in wind and solar power, aided by huge federal subsidies, has meant less investment in dispatchab­le, traditiona­l generation. It has also meant the power sources that underpin reliabilit­y — such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas power plants — have been left with reduced revenue. Consequent­ly, many have been forced into early retirement despite the glaring need for the backup insurance they provide to the grid.

For years, concerns about the loss of this baseload capacity have been dismissed by renewable proponents because electricit­y demand has been flat or falling across much of the country. But that’s now about to change in a big way.

The pivot to EVs is growing, with a half-dozen automakers so far announcing plans to go allelectri­c. The Biden administra­tion has made EVs a centerpiec­e of its climate and infrastruc­ture plan, proposing $174 billion for new charging networks and consumer incentives. From Teslas to the new F-150 Lightning truck, EVs are arriving in ever-growing numbers and transformi­ng power demand.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation’s grid, recently warned that electrific­ation of transport will mean the U.S. needs to double its electricit­y generating capacity by 2050. You read that right. The grid must be able to handle double the current demand in less than 30 years.

Maintainin­g grid reliabilit­y and electricit­y affordabil­ity is already a colossal challenge. Doing so while doubling demand underscore­s the need for a far more responsibl­e approach to the energy transition.

With our homes, businesses, and eventually our cars all counting on the grid, affordable and reliable power will only grow in importance. Responsibl­y managing the integratio­n of renewable power should mean that it’s added on top of the nation’s existing on-demand power sources, not in place of them. Consumers deserve a no-regrets grid. Ensuring we have that means better valuing the existing baseload generation that has underpinne­d it for so long.

California’s rolling blackouts last year, followed by the Texas grid catastroph­e in February — and now the threat of blackouts across the Western U.S. this summer — are a wake-up call. We need a grid we can count on. Ensuring we do means properly valuing the dispatchab­le, reliable generating capacity we already have.

Email: lmitchell@ 21st-centurymed­ Mail: 24 N. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19464



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Matthew Kandrach

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