Media & news

Warnings

Jan 2, 2024

A friend of mine recently asked why I write so many articles about climate change and Net Zero.

As an electric utility, the provision of reliable and affordable electricity is our primary objective. The intent of my articles is to illustrate how the many differing forces pushing for economic change, and the restructuring of the world’s energy industry, will likely disrupt the electric utility industry and reliable energy supply. When it happens – and the possibility increases every year – I would rather say, “You were warned.”

The electric utility industry’s greatest challenge today is the forced transition to green energy resources or a Net Zero carbon future. With that pressure, the ability to provide reliable and affordable energy is more at risk today than during any time since the United States was fully electrified in the 1940s.

Anyone paying attention remembers the rolling blackouts around Christmas last year with Winter Storm Elliott. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the agencies that regulate wholesale electric markets and are responsible for U.S. electric grid reliability, issued in late October a joint assessment of electric and natural gas issues during Elliott.

The report noted that, for the fifth time in eleven years, power plant failures caused by winter weather jeopardized reliability. In the face of growing demand to heat homes and businesses, many natural gas generators failed because of technical or mechanical issues, or a lack of natural gas to fuel the generators. Electric service to hundreds of thousands of Southeastern consumers over the Christmas holiday was interrupted, and millions more still were asked to conserve power to avoid further grid failures. The report notes the problems were particularly troubling in that the firm load interrupted occurred in the Eastern Interconnection (the entire U.S. electric grid east of the Rockies), which normally has surplus generation and transmission capacity should electric utilities across the region need to support one another. However, the problems across the Interconnection were so severe that it was necessary to curtail electric firm load in the southeast.

New York City faced its own problems. The city’s entire natural gas distribution system was led to the verge of collapse. The demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses and to supply electric generation plants increased dramatically, while supply from the Appalachian’s Marcellus and Utica natural gas fields was curtailed by cold weather and the lack of natural gas pipeline capacity. The result of those actions led to insufficient natural gas pipeline pressure downstream in New York City. Consolidated Edison, New York City’s natural gas distribution provider, was forced to interrupt some natural gas customers and redirect a liquefied natural gas regasification system to prevent a total collapse of its natural gas distribution system.

Consolidated Edison serves millions of retail natural gas customers in the New York City area. If the natural gas distribution system had collapsed from low pressure, each of those customer’s pilot lights would have gone out. Inspecting systems and re-lighting millions of pilot lights would have taken months, and millions of New Yorkers would have been without gas heat for the rest of winter.

Most of the problems experienced last winter were self-inflicted. New York Governors Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul have prohibited natural gas fracking in expanding the Marcellus fields into New York. They have stopped natural gas pipeline expansion in New York and prohibited additional gas distribution system expansion in New York City. Recently released regulations to reduce methane emissions in oil and natural gas production will result in decreased output of those fuels.

On his first day in office, President Biden stopped the Keystone pipeline and followed with draconian restrictions on natural gas permitting and construction that have effectively made new interstate natural gas pipeline construction impossible. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act allocates billions into green energy projects and policies that intentionally shift the burden of the country’s green energy transition to the electric utility industry. Last spring, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule that will require the majority of U.S. coal and natural gas plants to either close, switch to hydrogen fuel, or be equipped with pricey carbon capture and storage systems. More than likely, most of the effected plants will be forced to close.

Federal environmental policy is forcing energy usage to shift from fossil fuels, for consumers heating their homes or cooking their food (for example), to electricity. Electric utilities will need to bear the responsibility of ever-increasing electric demand while other policies severely restrict the available resources that would increase generation. It is becoming increasingly difficult, for electric utilities and natural gas utilities, to provide basic, necessary services at times of high demand because of restrictive government policies.

Last month I wrote about the fraying of the environmental movement to decarbonize the world’s energy. That fraying continues, but the environmental movement continues to call for total elimination of fossil fuels worldwide. Apparently, extremists don’t care about power outages, natural gas system collapses, or utility cost increases (or maybe they want them). You would think the experiences of power outages, even more close calls, and warnings for more in the future, would change the obsession with ending fossil fuel use. It apparently hasn’t and probably won’t. Remember, you were warned.

I hope you have a good month.

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