Our Electric Grid is Headed for a Blackout

The U. S. Energy and National Resource Committee (ENRC) met on April 10, 2014 to discuss the future operating reliability of our electric grid. The bottom line of the meeting is that the future reliability of our grid looks grim. This assessment is attributed to the energy policy advocated by the current administration. U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, from Louisiana, chairs the ENRC. Testimony was given, to her and other attending U.S. Senators, by top officials representing some of our largest utility companies, including American Electric Power and Calpine Corporation. Mr. Jim Hunter, Utilities Director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers reported that a possible grid shutdown in the future is more likely now than than at any other time during his forty years of utility experience. There was overall concern that another 2014 winter, or an extremely hot summer like 1988, could overload our electric plant capacity and cause electric outages for a large number of users.

Some of the reasons for the concern are summarized below.

1. Because of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, 20% of our coal fired electric power plants will be shutdown by mid 2015. If the EPA regulations are allowed to continue another 20% of the remaining coal plants could be shutdown in following years.
2. Renewable tax credits threaten the reliability of the grid. As renewables increase, grid stability becomes problematic. Renewables do not have the ability to provide baseline power. And, they do not have sufficient capacity to replace a 20% loss of coal fired electric power plants by mid 2015.
3. Work is progressing to replace the coal plants with natural gas fired electric power plants. Mr. Nicholas Akins, President of American Electric Power, questioned the reliability of his gas suppliers. If American Electric Power loses all, or a portion of their gas supply, they will be unable to provide the needed electricity on demand. Mr. Akins was also concerned about the potential fluctuations of natural gas pricing and how this will affect electricity consumers.

Very little meeting time was given to discuss recommendations to prevent future grid blackouts. One obvious recommendation was put forward, that should cause embarrassment for the current administration. It was suggested that that the Department of Energy (DOE), the EPA and utility companies should regularly meet together until a viable energy policy is established. Also, it was suggested that the current administration should stop selecting energy sources as their “winners” and those energy sources outside the winners circle are their “losers.”