Baseload electric generation is fundamental to reliability and affordability. Most baseload power plants in the U.S. generate electricity by burning fossil-fuels like coal and natural gas. In fact, over 60% of the electricity generated in the U.S. in 2021 was from fossil fuels and about 80% of our power needs were generated by a combination of fossil fuel and nuclear energy (see chart below). However, the reliability and affordability of electricity that Americans have experienced are being rapidly undermined.
Politicians and even some executives and corporate boards of directors of the nation’s largest investor-owned electric utilities have embraced a decarbonization agenda that is risking power reliability while simultaneously driving up costs. These decarbonization goals promote the early retirement of cost-efficient and reliable baseload fossil-fuel power plants.
Taxpayer-funded subsidies guarantee a profit for solar and wind generators even when the sun does not shine, and the wind does not blow. This puts coal and nuclear plants at a competitive disadvantage forcing many to permanently shut down while still having many years left of useful life. As a result, the Midwest has had 3,200 megawatts of coal and nuclear-generating capacity -enough to power 2.4 million homes- shuttered since last year.
Environmental cost compliance is also contributing to the accelerated retirement of these baseload plants to the detriment of electric reliability. The public announcement from Ameren Missouri to retire their Rush Island Energy Center south of St. Louis as early as 2025 is a classic example. At one time, the planned retirement of Rush Island was 2039, but the $1 billion price tag for additional environmental compliance is forcing its early closure.
This creates a supply gap between what a fossil-fuel generating station can produce running 95% (or more) of the time and intermittent solar and wind generators that generate electricity less than 20% of the time. This growing supply gap will weaken electric reliability, and the supply scarcity it creates is already causing electric prices to increase.
The Wall Street Journal ran a recent editorial titled “America’s Summer of Rolling Blackouts.” The article noted that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) issued a warning that two-thirds of the U.S. could experience blackouts this summer. The WSJ opined, “welcome to the ‘green energy transition’.”
Although the probability for blackouts in our area is low this summer, extreme weather conditions that coincide with unplanned generation or transmission outages during periods of peak demand could comprise supply. If such an event would occur, members would first be asked to voluntarily raise their thermostat levels on their air-conditioners and to delay operating any appliances (i.e., electric clothes washer and dryer) until after the peak event has passed. Business members would be asked to voluntarily shut off any non-essential electric loads during the event. Voluntary and collective load shedding by our members would have a significant impact on peak demand and help to avert mandatory blackouts.
Electricity generated from fossil fuels is reliable and until recently affordable. While public policies continue to support taxpayer subsidies for renewable, albeit intermittent, power other policies impose unreasonable regulations on reliable baseload generation. Our nation’s haste to adopt renewable energy should not be at the expense of eradicating fossil fuels.