Media & news


Crisis Growing

Jun 3, 2024

Last month, I wrote about the growing problem of electric capacity shortages in the U.S. I referenced the extended blackouts in Texas and other parts of the Midwest with Winter Storm Yuri in 2021, as well as the rolling blackout across the TVA and Duke service areas resulting from extremely cold temperatures on Christmas Eve 2022. 

I noted growing concerns expressed in the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico that, unless something changes, electric capacity shortages may soon become a crisis in certain areas of the country with the expansion of data centers, the growth of artificial intelligence (which demands multiple times more energy than traditional internet searches), the rise of an electric economy due to higher demand from the growth of electric vehicles, increased electric heating, and more energy intensive manufacturing, and the zeal of the Biden Administration in shutting down fossil fuel energy resources.

The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board published an opinion article, “Biden’s Plan to Ration Electricity,” on Sunday, April 27 which states the electric capacity crisis is deepening. The organic demand for electricity, the explosion of demand to support data centers, and the forced conversion of energy usage to electric usage all continue to increase at the same time the Biden Administration continues its march to eliminate all fossil fuel energy resources.

Last week the EPA issued its proposed rules on greenhouse gas emissions, water management at electric generation plants, tighter mercury emissions, and coal ash storage and management. This greenhouse gas rule will essentially force existing coal plants to shut down by 2032 and will effectively ban new baseload natural gas plants by requiring the adoption of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The Clean Air Act provides that EPA may, “…regulate pollutants from stationary sources through the best available system of emission reductions that is adequately demonstrated.” CCS; however, is neither the best emissions control technology, nor is it adequately demonstrated. Only one very small power plant in Canada is currently operating CCS technology at utility scale. No natural gas plants are outfitted with CCS technology, nor is any viable technology currently available for natural gas plants. The EPA states tax credits available under the Inflation Reduction Act will promote CCS, but that doesn’t equate to a mature “best available and adequately demonstrated” technology that actually works.

The captured carbon dioxide in the CCS process must be stored deep underground in geologic formations, which are primarily located in the upper Midwest and Gulf Coast Regions. Many other regions, like Florida, do not have suitable geology for carbon storage. Very few pipelines either exist or are being permitted to transport captured carbon dioxide from power plants to the geologic areas suitable for carbon storage. Pipeline permitting and construction will likely be difficult, given that environmentalists are as opposed to carbon pipelines and sequestration as they are to fossil fuel-fired generation.

CCS technology is expensive, and it requires significant amounts of energy. Because of this, CCS effectively leeches reliable energy that would have otherwise served the electric grid.  We also haven’t even addressed the capital costs of capturing, transporting and sequestering the carbon. That means that electricity provided by traditional power plants will increase dramatically. The constant media assurances that renewable and carbon-free power will be cheaper and more reliable than power produced by coal or natural gas are poor journalism or outright lies – not even with the massive tax incentives offered by the federal government.

Coal plants today provide about 16% of the electricity in the U.S. Their closure, within a compressed period of time alone, will place an already stressed electric grid under even more pressure. The regulatory uncertainty of the EPA rules on new natural gas units will have a chilling effect on the construction of reliable natural gas generation that would replace the shuttered coal generation.

While the U.S moves to close as many fossil fuel generation plants as quickly as possible, China continues to build new coal generation. China has added more than 200 gigawatts of coal generation over the last five years and started construction on an additional 70 megawatts in 2023 – more than the existing U.S. coal fleet. These assurances that the U.S.’s renewable energy program will reduce global carbon emissions are on par with the promises of “cheaper” and “more reliable” carbon-free power: simply not true.

The triple convergence of growing electric loads, the forced closure of coal-fired generation plants, and the Biden Administration’s plan to place equally draconian restrictions on existing natural gas plants point to a deepening crisis of electricity demand and much higher electric costs for consumers and industry well into the future. The shortage of electric power, or “rationing” of electric power as suggested by the Wall Street Journal, combined with higher energy prices will have a disastrous effect on our economy with the higher costs of energy being assumed in every good produced or consumed.

The rhetoric of climate change being the greatest existential threat of any of our lifetimes rings hollow as the world faces so many other real challenges. How long will the voting populace actually care about what might happen 75 years from now while, much sooner, they might be sitting in their cold, dark homes?

The picture the EPA is painting is not pretty, but I hope you have a good month, anyway.  

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