SOS for US power grid End-shutdown

People pass power lines in Arlington, Virginia.


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Warnings keep coming that the forced energy transition to renewable fuels is destabilizing the US power grid, but is anyone in government paying attention? Another SOS came Friday in an ominous report from PJM Interconnection, one of the country’s largest network operators.

The PJM report forecasts energy supply and demand through 2030 in the 13 eastern states in its territory that covers 65 million people. Their main conclusion: Fossil fuel power plants are being phased out much faster than renewable sources are being developed, which could lead to energy “imbalances.” That’s a delicate way of saying you can expect shortages and blackouts.

PJM typically generates a surplus of power from its large fossil fuel fleet, which it exports to neighboring grids in the Midwest and Northeast. When wind power slumped in the Midwest and Central States late last week, PJM helped fill the gap between supply and demand and kept the lights on.

That’s why it’s especially worrying that PJM is predicting a big decline in its power reserves as coal and natural gas plants retire. The report forecasts that 40,000 megawatts (MW) of power generation, enough to light 30 million homes, is at risk of retirement by 2030, representing around 21% of PJM’s current generating capacity.

Most of the projected power plant retirements are “policy-driven,” the report says. For example, the high costs of complying with Environmental Protection Agency regulations, including a proposed “good neighbor rule” that is expected to be finalized next month, will force the shutdown of about 10,500 MW of fossil fuel generation.

At the same time, the ESG (environmental, social and governance) commitments of utilities are driving coal plants to close report notes. Illinois and New Jersey climate policies could reduce generation by 8,900 MW. Do these states plan to rely on their good neighbors for power?

Many states have set ambitious renewable goals, and the Cut Inflation Act gives huge subsidies to wind, solar and battery power. But the report says that “the historical completion rate for renewable projects has been about 5%,” in part because of permitting challenges. In an optimistic case, the report estimates that 21,000 MW of wind, solar and battery storage capacity will be added to the grid by 2030, about half of the expected retirements of fossil fuels.

There’s another problem: Demand for electric power will rise amid the growth of data centers and the government’s push for electrification of vehicles, heating and everything else. Loudoun County, Virginia, has “the highest concentration of data centers in the world,” the report says.

The report does not say this, no doubt due to political reluctance, but the conclusion is clear. The left’s green energy transition is incompatible with a growing economy and improving living standards. Renewables do not provide reliable power 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the creeping drive to shut down coal and gas plants that do will invariably result in blackouts.

During a blast of arctic air last December, PJM ordered some businesses to reduce energy use and urged households to do the same. PJM narrowly avoided staggered blackouts as some generators switched to burning oil. But what will happen when those power plants shut down? A power shortage in PJM has the potential to cascade across much of the US.

Government officials have been warning about the risks of cyber attacks and physical attacks on the network. But what about the accelerating danger of climate politics?

Magazine editorial report: Tim Scott gives an impressive speech in Iowa. Vivek Ramaswamy enters. Images: AP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Compositor: Mark Kelly

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It appeared in the print issue of February 27, 2023.

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