Opinion: Dependable Power in Jeopardy

Last December, Winter Storm Elliott marred what should have been one of the most festive times of the year, with frigid temperatures and rolling blackouts in Kentucky. More recently, PJM Interconnection – the electrical grid operator that serves those same regions – issued an emergency warning that the current summer heatwave could strain the grid, with loads expected to exceed last year’s peak demand. These repeat events are confirmation of what industry and energy experts have been saying for years: America and Kentucky are on the verge of a reliability crisis of our own making.

This crisis is the result of a federal regulatory regime designed to accelerate the proliferation of renewable energy. In just the past two years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed and enacted a suite of regulations that are forcing additional baseload power plants into premature retirement. These regulations have entirely ignored dependability, affordability, and the ability of grid operators to serve their customers during bouts of extreme weather.

The reliability crisis is particularly acute in Kentucky, where retirements of fuel-secure resources like coal are taking place at a uniquely rapid pace. Just last week, Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities announced plans to cut coal power by a third by 2030, beginning with four coal-fired electric generating units in the next several years. And across its entire network, the grid operator PJM is planning to deal with the retirement of 24,000 MW worth of coal-power plants by 2030. If anything, these projections underestimate the retirements because more regulations have yet to take effect.

A PJM report warns that increasing electricity demand combined with compounding regulatory pressure is likely to create a scenario in which retirement of existing power plants significantly outpaces construction of new renewable resources. As PJM President Manu Asthana cautioned at a recent summit, “When you do the math – when you look at the rate of retirements, you look at the rate of growth, and you add in the current rate of throughput for our queue – we are headed for some trouble.”

This is not a partisan issue. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and elected officials on both sides of the aisle have raised the alarm about the reliability crisis and its severe risks to affordability, dependability, and economic resilience. Just last month, FERC Commissioner Mark Christie testified that, “we are retiring dispatchable generating resources at a pace and in an amount that is far too fast and far too great, and it is threatening our ability to keep the lights on.”  

This cannot continue. Instead of artificially forcing the retirement of conventional, baseload power plants we should again embrace an all-of-the-above approach to energy that puts people’s needs before politics. That means accepting that it will be decades before the infrastructure and technology to reliably transport and store power generated by renewable sources is sufficient to replace existing 24/7 resources.  To do anything else would be to put both the welfare and economic wellbeing of Kentuckians at risk.

Michelle Bloodworth is president and CEO of America’s Power, a partnership of industries involved in producing electricity from coal.

This opinion piece appeared in LINK nky