In 2019, candidate Joe Biden pledged to voters that, if elected president, “We’re going to end fossil fuel.” Since taking office, he has worked ceaselessly with the radical environmentalists who call the shots and set the agenda to make good on his campaign promise by waging an all-out war against the production, distribution, and use of fossil fuels.
The Biden administration immediately cancelled the Keystone pipeline and then blocked other pipeline projects. It has drastically curtailed the issuance of leases and permits needed to develop fossil resources on public lands and offshore. It has denied applications to expand refinery capacity. And it has issued unattainable carbon dioxide emission limitations designed to force the closure of hundreds of fossil-fueled electric power plants currently in operation.
The Biden administration and its political allies in state and local governments have launched a series of aggressive regulatory initiatives designed to drastically restrict the availability and increase the cost of a wide range of fossil-fueled consumer products: gas stoves and furnaces, gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, gasoline-powered lawn care equipment, wood stoves, and more.
The openly stated utopian goal of all these regulatory actions is to “decarbonize” the entire American economy and somehow smoothly transition the whole country to a supposedly climate-friendly “sustainable” future that is powered and heated and cooled by electricity produced by renewable wind and solar generators.
The Biden administration’s decarbonization campaign poses a grave threat to the reliability of the nation’s electric system. Electricity, unlike oil and gas and other forms of energy, cannot be stored in significant amounts. It must be produced by generators and supplied to customers in amounts precisely equal to the amounts demanded by customers at any given point in time. If the supply of electricity is not kept continuously in balance with the demand for it the electric system will crash, and a widespread blackout will result.
Electric system operators can easily adjust the output of fossil-fueled generators, and nuclear generators, to meet customer demand as that demand fluctuates throughout each day. With electricity available to everyone “at the flick of a switch,” each of us is free to manage our daily affairs in the way that we find most convenient. The overall economic efficiencies and societal benefits that result from such flexibility are enormous.
With renewables, it’s an entirely different story. Electric system operators have no such control over the output of wind turbine generators and solar panels. The amount of power supplied by these technologies depends entirely on the availability of steady wind and clear sunlight.
Widespread smoke from the recent wildfires in Canada cut solar output across the U.S. Northeast by 90%. Calm weather cuts the output of a wind farm to a faction of its specified production capability. If the wind drops unexpectedly, system operators have to scramble to purchase replacement power from neighboring systems, or they must quickly cut power to customers enough to maintain system balance.
Emergency power supply cuts are enormously disruptive for commercial customers, and tremendously expensive. Power cuts associated with wildfires in California have cost customers billions of dollars.
Independent regulators responsible for maintaining the reliability of the electric system are warning with increasing urgency that the forced retirement of fossil-fueled power plants and the growing reliance on weather dependent renewables pose a serious threat to the nation’s power supply. They are predicting that emergency power cuts will become more and more common in the future.
Faced with such a threat, any responsible administration would moderate its energy and environmental policies. But that’s not what progressives do. They never change course, regardless of the objective evidence confronting them. They double down.
If system operators cannot control the output of wind turbine generators and solar panels to meet fluctuating customer demand then, to advance the decarbonization agenda, system operators must be given the authority and resources they need to control customer demand on an ongoing basis and limit that demand to levels that can be meet by the fluctuating capabilities of weather dependent generators.
Under pressure from environmentalists, more and more electric companies are installing equipment and implementing protocols that will allow them to remotely control customer demand continuously, not just during emergencies. California regulators have announced a goal to place 7,000 megawatts of customer demand under centralized control by 2030.
To sell this normalization of power cuts, the companies have launched sophisticated media programs designed to convince customers that flick-of-the-switch power is an irresponsible indulgence that must be foregone, and demand “flexibility” must be embraced, to save the planet from catastrophic climate change.
They came for our gas stoves and furnaces. They came for our cars and trucks, our wood stoves and firepits, our lawn mowers and leaf blowers. And now, they are coming for our thermostats.
J. Kennerly Davis (Ken) is a regulatory attorney with over 40 years of experience in the electric and gas power industry. He can be reached at email@example.com