Electric regulators and utilities across America are sounding the alarm on grid reliability, yet the Biden administration keeps on hitting the snooze button.
The newest warning comes from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) biennial “Reliability Risk Priorities Report.” For the first time, energy policy is listed as one of five key risk profiles, joining grid transformation, security risks, extreme events, and critical infrastructure interdependencies. This is significant because it singles out bad energy policy as a major threat to the grid.
The report is no surprise. When I was secretary of Energy, grid reliability is what kept me up at night, even with our all-of-the-above approach. But those days are long gone. While President Joe Biden’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency are doling out dollars as fast as they can in the name of climate change, some regulators understand the vulnerabilities in our grid.
In a May hearing on Capitol Hill, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Willie Phillips warned: “We face unprecedented challenges to the reliability of our nation’s electric system.”
The rate of traditional power sources exiting the grid isn’t keeping up with our deployment of cleaner energy, putting us on a trajectory to “a very catastrophic situation in terms of reliability,” as Commissioner Mark Christie put it. These threats aren’t new but at least FERC now appears prepared to act.
Renewable subsidies and mandates are further distorting electricity markets to the detriment of reliable baseload power. As reliable power sources are retired prematurely, all of the green energy that Democrats promised isn’t showing up. At the same time, the push to electrify everything from our cars to our stoves puts further pressure on demand.
To be clear, Democrat policies are the problem, not renewables. That’s the message NERC was trying to send in their new report. Bad policy is the No. 1 threat to our grid, and the Biden administration has exposed all Americans to the consequences of the disastrous policies we’ve seen in blue states.
Take New York, for example. As of 2021, solar and wind supplied 1% and 3.6% of the state’s power, yet it’s mandated to have 70% renewable electricity by 2030. According to its grid operator, the state needs to roughly triple its current power capacity by 2040 and that it needs zero-emission technology “not yet available on a commercial scale” to replace fossil fuels.
And a few years ago, it foolishly closed both nuclear reactors at Indian Point Power Plant under pressure from then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and so-called environmentalists. The state’s power-sector carbon emissions rose 35% as a result.
On the other hand, look at what’s happening in Virginia, where Governor Glenn Youngkin has brought a transparent “all-of-the-above” state energy plan. Aside from chipping away at discriminatory mandates from the prior governor’s administration, he’s already mapped out a plan to attract small modular nuclear reactors to meet growing demand for clean baseload.
Tech companies are flooding to the state to build data centers because they are confident in his plan to keep electricity affordable and reliable. And Virginians approve.
When I brought wind power to Texas in the 2000s, I welcomed it as an opportunity to diversify our energy portfolio. But I never envisioned it would lead to the dogmatism that we’re now seeing from the political left, where keeping the lights on takes a back seat to hastily deploying renewables.
I also hadn’t envisioned that America would soon replace Russia as the world’s top producer of natural gas thanks to the innovation in fracking by the great Texan George P. Mitchell.
Revolutionary market disruptions happen through the persistence of entrepreneurs, not government bureaucrats. We have no idea what new technologies may emerge or scale in the coming years, nor did I as governor of Texas and U.S. secretary of Energy…. and neither do the Democrats.
I urge my fellow Republicans at all levels of government to emphasize grid reliability as a policy priority. A recent Heatmap poll found that 63% of Americans have heard “nothing” or “not much” about what is contained in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which is projected to cost the American taxpayers upwards of $2.8 trillion, according to Wood McKenzie.
Yet it remains popular, reflecting a dangerous knowledge gap between the public and bureaucrats in charge of their tax dollars.
When I was U.S. secretary of Energy, secure, reliable and affordable energy came before everything else. I respected states’ rights to determine how to best utilize natural resources for energy. But if NERC had come sounding the alarm about keeping the lights on, I would at least listen.
As Chairman Phillips honorably put it: reliability “is and must be, always, job No. 1.”
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