Energy Security Must Include Reliable Power

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The Oba­ma — EPA  plan ensures that black­outs will be in our future.


Unlike pop­u­la­tions in most oth­er parts of the world, we Amer­i­cans take vital ben­e­fits of depend­able elec­tric­i­ty for grant­ed. We sim­ply plug into an out­let or flip on a switch and ful­ly expect that our lights will go on, our com­put­ers will charge, our cof­fee will heat up, our air con­di­tion­ers will func­tion, and yes, our gen­er­ous tax­pay­er sub­si­dized plug-in vehi­cles will run again until tomorrow.

This won­der­ful, fine­ly bal­anced round-the-clock empow­er­ment required plan­ning and devel­op­ment which didn’t occur overnight. The same will be true of future efforts to restore ade­quate capa­bil­i­ties after the Oba­ma EPA’s Clean Pow­er Plan takes an esti­mat­ed one-third of all U.S. coal-fired plants off the grid over the next 5 years. This amounts to a loss of gen­er­at­ing capac­i­ty suf­fi­cient to sup­ply res­i­den­tial elec­tric­i­ty for about 57 mil­lion people.

The North Amer­i­can Elec­tric Reli­a­bil­i­ty Corp, a non­prof­it over­sight group, empha­sizes that the plan con­sti­tutes “a sig­nif­i­cant reli­a­bil­i­ty chal­lenge, giv­en the time required for imple­men­ta­tion.” The time­line to con­vert or replace a coal-fired pow­er plant with nat­ur­al gas requires years, where­by sit­ing, per­mit­ting and devel­op­ment to meet EPA’s inter­im tar­get would need to be com­plet­ed by 2017.

Even if a state were able to sub­mit a com­pli­ance plan by 2017 or 2018, the EPA has admit­ted that it may take up to anoth­er year to approve it. New and upgrad­ed nat­ur­al gas plants will require addi­tion­al pipeline infra­struc­ture which may take five years or longer. More expan­sive trans­mis­sion lines will also be required to con­nect that capac­i­ty to the grid, with full imple­men­ta­tion poten­tial­ly tak­ing up to 15 years.

EPA’s lat­est cli­mate alarm-premised war on coal assault calls for states to cut CO2 emis­sions by 30% from 2005 lev­els by 2030 despite satel­lite-record­ed flat mean glob­al tem­per­a­tures over the past 18 years and count­ing. This fed­er­al usurpa­tion of state respon­si­bil­i­ty dat­ing back to the inven­tion of the mod­ern steam engine in the 1880s is unprecedented.

A “fin­ish­ing rule” expect­ed to be issued in June or July will require states to meet agency car­bon-reduc­tion tar­gets by reor­ga­niz­ing their “pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and use of elec­tric­i­ty.” In com­ply­ing, 39 states must achieve more than 50% of the EPA’s reduc­tion tar­gets by 2020.

Not only are the EPA’s man­dates infea­si­ble, they also demand that states oper­ate “out­side the fence line” to force shut­downs of coal (and even­tu­al­ly nat­ur­al gas), estab­lish min­i­mum quo­tas for renew­ables (wind and solar), and impose ener­gy con­ser­va­tion man­dates. Nev­er mind here that last year the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against the Fed­er­al Ener­gy Reg­u­la­to­ry Commission’s claim of author­i­ty over “demand response” of the nation­al ener­gy grid.

Larry Tribe, Harvard constitutional authority

Lar­ry Tribe, Har­vard con­sti­tu­tion­al authority

Even lib­er­al Har­vard con­sti­tu­tion­al author­i­ty Lar­ry Tribe has observed being stunned at this effort to nation­al­ize U.S. elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion by coerc­ing states to pass new laws or rush through new com­pli­ance rules that exceed the EPA’s legal juris­dic­tion. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is clear­ly eager for such pol­i­cy changes to be quick­ly put into effect which a future Repub­li­can pres­i­dent can’t reverse. This will also pro­vide brag­ging rights for a cli­mate ini­tia­tive he can announce at the Paris cli­mate con­fer­ence lat­er this year.
For­tu­nate­ly, while states are invit­ed to draw up imple­men­ta­tion plans for EPA approval, they real­ly have no legal oblig­a­tion to do so. And while the EPA can attempt to com­man­deer a fed­er­al plan if states resist, there are good incen­tives for them to band togeth­er in call­ing the EPA’s bluff — rea­sons which can oth­er­wise bear dan­ger­ous and cost­ly consequences.

An April 7 Wash­ing­ton, DC, pow­er out­age caused by a mechan­i­cal fail­ure and fire at a trans­fer sta­tion tem­porar­i­ly dis­rupt­ed elec­tric­i­ty to the White House, the Capi­tol, gov­ern­ment agen­cies (yes, includ­ing the Ener­gy Depart­ment), businesses/residents, and street lights. While rel­a­tive­ly minor, it most like­ly could have been avoid­ed if a 60-year-old coal-fired plant called the Potomac Riv­er Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion in Alexan­dria, Va., which pro­vid­ed back­up capac­i­ty to bal­ance the grid, had not been shuttered.

It was one of 188 plant clo­sures cred­it­ed to for­mer New York City May­or Bloomberg’s activist “Beyond Coal” cam­paign which he has sup­port­ed with a $80 mil­lion in dona­tions to the anti-fos­sil Sier­ra Club.

A far more dam­ag­ing 2003 North­east black­out result­ed in costs of about $13 bil­lion. Refer­ring to the Clean Pow­er Plan, the New York Inde­pen­dent Sys­tems Oper­a­tor (NYISO) now reports that the EPA’s “inher­ent­ly unrea­son­able” reduc­tions “can­not be sus­tained while main­tain­ing reli­able elec­tric ser­vice to New York City.” The NYISO fur­ther projects unac­cept­able plan con­se­quences which “no amount of flex­i­bil­i­ty can fix.”

States should col­lec­tive­ly heed this real­i­ty. Rather than accept the EPA’s dirty work, it’s imper­a­tive that fed­er­al hijack­ing of state sov­er­eign­ty be resound­ing­ly rejected.