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EPA ignores electric reliability warnings 

Federal energy agency: ‘Very catastrophic situation’ 

ON MAY 11, JUST ONE WEEK AFTER the federal agency overseeing the nation’s power grid warned of “a very catastrophic situation in terms of reliability,” the Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule that could force the closure of every coal-fired power plant in America as well as most of the natural gas plants if they cannot cut their emissions by 90%. 

Here’s how Politico reported on it: The new rule will require, “most fossil fuel power plants to slash their greenhouse gas pollution 90% between 2035 and 2040—or shut down.” 

“We face unprecedented challenges to the reliability of our nation’s electric system,” Willie Phillips, acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in a May 4 hearing. 

FERC Commissioner James Danly added his concern of a “looming reliability crisis in our electricity markets.” 

Reliability crisis 

The FERC commissioners point to several factors for the reliability crisis, including numerous coal plants being retired prematurely, insufficient pipeline capacity to assure natural gas can be delivered to power plants, insufficient high-voltage transmission capacity, and distortions in the electricity market caused by massive federal subsidies for weather-dependent renewables. 

On the last point, Danly told the senators, “FERC has allowed the markets to fall prey to the price distorting and warping effects of subsidies and public policies that have driven the advancement of large quantities of intermittent renewable resources onto the electric system.” 

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the committee’s chairman, asked the commissioners a simple question: can the electric grid, as it exists today, be reliable without coal-fired generation? All of the commissioners said no, with Commissioner Mark Christie saying, “We need to keep coal for the foreseeable future.” 

EPA acts anyway 

Despite those warnings, the EPA under President Joe Biden wants to implement rules that could— repeat, could—force the closure of 90% of the hydrocarbon-fueled power plants in the country. 

That would be catastrophic. Last year, hydrocarbon-fueled power plants in the U.S. generated 2,518 terawatt-hours of energy, which was about 59% of the electricity produced in the country. 

The 2,266 terawatt-hours of energy generated from hydrocarbons every year is more than 10 times the amount of juice now being produced by all of the solar panels in the country. It’s also more than five times what’s being produced by wind turbines, and nearly three times more than what’s being generated by all of our nuclear plants. 

Hope is not a strategy 

The EPA’s proposed rule hinges on the dubious claim that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is ready for prime time. As Politico reporter Alex Guillén reported, to “justify the size of those cuts, the agency says fossil fuel plants could capture their greenhouse gas emissions before they hit the atmosphere—a long-debated technology that no power plant in the U.S. uses now.” 

Why aren’t power plants using it? The energy penalty for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from flue gas (known as the parasitic load) is about 28%. Thus, simply capturing the CO2 slashes the output of the plant by more than a quarter. Second, we don’t have enough pipelines to move that colorless, odorless, worthless gas. Remember, due to opposition from climate activists, energy companies can’t get permits to build pipelines that carry valuable products like crude oil and natural gas. Given that, it’s unlikely that any energy companies will be able to get permits for pipelines to carry CO2. 

Third, the amount of gas involved is staggering. A bit of simple math shows that sequestering 600 million tons of CO2 per year (the number the EPA published in its May 11 press release) would require creating an industry capable of handling a mass of CO2 that’s equal to about 12 million barrels of oil per day. 

Despite the obvious cost, technical and scale problems with CCS, the leaders of America’s biggest alt-energy nongovernmental organizations happily cheered the EPA’s proposed power plant rule. 

More demand, less reliability 

The Biden administration and its many allies are aggressively pushing policies that will dramatically increase demand for electricity across the country at the same time the EPA is pushing rules that are undermining the reliability of the electric grid. 

The administration continues pushing radical and impractical proposals that are imposing regressive energy taxes on low- and middle-income consumers, hurting our energy security and increasing the risk of a catastrophic failure of our electric grid. 

It’s time for sober thinking about our energy and power networks. We need an affordable, reliable and resilient electric grid.

ROBERT BRYCE is an author, journalist, podcaster, film producer and public speaker. Over the past three decades, his articles have appeared in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Review, Field & Stream and Austin Chronicle. His documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, is available on several streaming platforms. 

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