An Electric Grid Reliability Crisis is on the Horizon

The Wall Street Journal article, “Heat Wave Sends Natural-Gas Prices Soaring” (July 21, 2022) looked primarily at pricing volatility, but alluded to a much larger problem that deserves immediate attention. The reliability of the U.S. electric grid is declining because of premature coal-fired plant retirements and greater dependence on intermittent sources of energy, i.e., wind and solar. Commissioner Mark Christie of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has warned that the nation is heading for a reliability crisis, and he is not alone in voicing concern. Grid operators and state utility commissions have cautioned that the accelerated rate of coal-fired plant retirements is outpacing accredited renewable capacity additions.

Traditionally utility companies rely on coal to meet energy needs, especially during periods of peak demand as is happening now. But that option is fast disappearing since more than 60 percent of the coal fleet has retired or has announced plans to retire by 2030. Amid projections of capacity shortfalls for at least the next ten years, some utility companies are rethinking or delaying retirements, but more should. Coal will be needed for the foreseeable future because it promotes grid reliability, resilience, and energy security. Americans want affordable energy, but they expect dependability. If retirements continue at this pace, the question is, can they?