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We Bought Our Ticket

Jun 11, 2021

I spent my 13th summer with cousins in Cincinnati. It was my first time away from home and a great adventure. Also, my hometown, Corinth, Mississippi, was revamping its youth sports programs, and there was no baseball to keep me home that summer.

In addition to playing baseball with my cousin Jimmy Crabb, I learned about other places in the world and made a lot of new friends. I still recall afternoons at the ballpark two blocks away from the house, Cincinnati Reds baseball on television, and sodas (they were always “Cokes” in Corinth, regardless of the brand, but are called sodas north of the Mason-Dixon line) at the Pony Keg.

My cousin Jimmy was what we called a hellion. He welcomed every challenge. He was outgoing, athletic and a daredevil. He never backed down from anyone and was always the first one into anything. He was only six months older than me, but his personality and his turf mandated that he be the leader of our little group.

His personality led to one of the most memorable events of my life. One Saturday afternoon we went to Coney Island, near downtown Cincinnati. Coney Island is gone now, replaced by a newer amusement park, King’s Island. But in 1967, it was a very popular place and had one of the largest roller coasters (sometimes called pippins after the historic Zippin’ Pippin in Memphis, Elvis Presley’s favorite) in the country. Named “Dip the Dips,” it was a huge wooden frame structure that stretched far into the sky and made many dives, twists and turns. The cars roared like thunder as they fell straight down from the heavens.

Of course, Cousin Jimmy led me straight to the pippin. I was a small town country boy who had seen roller coasters at the county fair, but only those that could be disassembled and moved on trucks. I had never seen or even imagined the monster that loomed in front of us. With Jimmy’s insistence and the ignorance of youth, we bought our tickets and got into line. When we moved onto the loading platform, Jimmy insisted we sit in the front car. As we were getting into the car and pulling the bar back, Jimmy said, “the front row is better – no one will throw up on us here.”

As we pulled away from the platform launching my virgin trip off the earth, I wondered what Jimmy had gotten us into – a monster roller coaster that you needed to sit in the front seat so no one would throw up on you. And then it got worse, as we rose higher and higher and then fell like a rock for what seemed hundreds of feet…only to rise again and fall again, to rise again and fall again and twist and turn violently.

I still remember the initial free fall. I had never experienced anything like it. All I could do was hold on, catch my stomach in my throat, squeeze the bar close, listen to Jimmy scream and pray it would end soon.

I recalled the fears and apprehension of my first roller coaster ride when I heard President Biden’s recently released Infrastructure Plan that mandates the electric utility sector be carbon-free by 2035. Along with that mandate, President Biden also calls for incentives to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric vehicles – all of which must be powered from carbon-free resources by 2035.

The electric utility industry emits about 25% of the carbon emitted in the U.S. and the transportation sector emits 29%. Therefore, the Biden math is that within the next 15 years, the electric utility industry will absorb the transportation sector’s emissions and reduce more than half of today’s U.S. carbon emissions through transformation of electric generation sources to carbon-free production.

Despite some of the comments about my articles, at PowerSouth we know electric generation and the difficulties of maintaining a reliable electric grid. The grid has shown its fragility over the past two years with extensive blackouts in California, Texas, and other states. Without a major technology breakthrough, it will be very, very difficult, if not impossible, for electric utilities to generate carbon-free electricity for current loads, much less add the burden of the transportation fleet, by 2035.

Nuclear units cannot be brought on line that quickly, and there will not be enough solar power and batteries to power the grid. Not all areas have wind, and there is insufficient transmission capability to move the wind to eastern population centers. PowerSouth’s new natural gas combined-cycle plant is also designed to burn hydrogen, but utility-scale hydrogen to run numerous power plants is decades away. A carbon-free electric industry and a carbon-free transportation fleet in 15 years is a near-impossible challenge.

Which brings me back to Coney Island when I was 13. We bought our ticket and approached the apex of the ride. I have the same feeling I did then. All we can do is hold on and pray it ends soon–and before anyone throws up on us. My stomach is already rolling, but at least Jimmy is not screaming.

I hope you have a good month.  

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