The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board’s “S.O.S for the U.S. Electric Grid” is another timely warning about electricity shortages highlighted in a new report from PJM Interconnection. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator have issued similar warnings that power supplies in other regions of the country also are in jeopardy because fossil-fuel power plants, mostly coal-fired, are being shut down faster than replacement power sources, almost exclusively wind and solar, can be built. But that is only part of the problem since wind and solar facilities, once built, depend on weather and are less dependable than coal. Coal plants are five times more dependable than solar when electricity demand is greatest and 14 times more dependable than wind. During Storm Elliott, coal provided almost half the additional electricity PJM needed at the peak of the storm, whereas wind and solar could provide only 11 percent.
Although more than a third of the nation’s coal fleet has already closed, the problem is getting worse. By the end of this decade, more than two-thirds of the coal fleet will have retired unless things change. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is implementing or developing at least six rules that will shut down more coal-fired power plants, especially during 2026-2028. EPA projects that just one of these rules will shut down more than ten percent of the remaining coal fleet within the next three years. The unnecessary tax subsidies for wind and solar power in the Inflation Reduction Act will also cause more coal plants to close.
Unless officials responsible for keeping the lights on take steps to pause many of these coal retirements, it is hard to see how we avoid a crisis.