Soaring gas and electricity prices may be just part of Americans’ energy problems this summer. In recent months, a slew of power providers have issued warnings that millions of residents could experience power outages due to the growing inability of America’s ever-changing energy infrastructure to meet electricity needs. From western states like Utah, Colorado and California to Midwestern states like Illinois, energy providers have warned that rising prices, shortages as some coal plants shut down and nuclear power and the unreliability of renewables such as wind and solar have reduced energy surpluses. That left a few spots with little room for error during peak usage times in mid-summer, potentially causing the kind of outages California saw last year. The warnings prompted calls to slow climate change-driven efforts to decommission nuclear and fossil fuel power plants. They also emerged as an issue in local elections in November.
In December, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, responsible for overseeing the reliability of the continent’s electric grid, released a study warning of insufficient capacity to meet the power needs of various regions, beginning as early as this summer and spanning the next decade. The study pointed out, for example, that the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which coordinates and oversees the electric grid of 15 states in the Midwest and South serving more than 40 million people, noted that the closure of factories representing important energy sources had accelerated a shortage of power reserves, potentially with disastrous consequences.
In April, the head of MISO explained that some states it serves could see significantly higher costs and “an increased risk of temporary, controlled outages to maintain system reliability” during periods of high power consumption, like summer heat waves. Shortly after, Ameren Illinois, which supplies electricity to 1.2 million customers in the Prairie state, warned that capacity issues could “leave parts of Illinois short of power for meet customer demand during extreme temperatures this summer.” As one business executive put it, “A perfect storm of events impacts electricity prices and availability.” He added: “We have sounded the alarm bells that the transition to renewable energy generation must happen in a steady and measured way and that moving too fast could drive prices up.”
The warnings prompted efforts by Republican Illinois state lawmakers to slow Gov. Jay Pritzker’s plan to commit to a fully renewable state power grid by 2045. The plan made utility companies reluctant to invest in non-renewable energy facilities and drove up rates, discouraging industrial investment, according to the head of the Illinois Manufacturing Association. The energy situation became an issue in the race for state governor in November. “JB Pritzker has pushed for a sweeping total phase-out of fossil fuel power plants with massive spending and facility closures to begin over the next few years,” said Richard Irvin, Republican Mayor of Aurora, Illinois, and presidential candidate. post of governor. “Now the people of central and southern Illinois will pay the price for Pritzker’s misplaced priorities with the possibility of no power at all this summer.”
Part of the problem is that renewables remain unpredictable and often don’t provide enough power during peak hours. Meanwhile, state regulators have been slow to adjust to the changing energy landscape. In February, for example, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) warned that unless the pace of fossil fuel plant shutdowns slowed, residents would see power outages over the next two summers. Among the issues facing New Mexico are delays in the construction of four solar power plants and the impending shutdown next month of the coal-fired San Juan plant. “I think it’s very clear that over the past few years, PNM has continually expressed concerns about the adequacy of resources,” an official said recently. “My frustration in the process is that I feel like public service expertise has been ignored or dismissed.” Under pressure, the state utility regulator recently agreed to allow part of the San Juan plant to continue operating through the summer.
Even with the added capacity in New Mexico, however, the state and its neighbors could still face problems this summer. The Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which oversees the power grid of western US states and two Canadian provinces, warns of system-wide shortages in several states this summer that will force them to import electricity and increase the risk of blackouts during peak periods. States like Utah and Colorado could face the equivalent of 34 days of cumulative power shortages, the council said recently, which means they have to find and buy a significant amount of energy somewhere else.
Adding to the region’s woes, California, which is increasingly dependent on electricity generated elsewhere as it shut down its fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, is now facing a decline in one of its main sources of electricity. energy, hydroelectric power. A drought on the West Coast has drained many rivers, lakes and reservoirs, potentially limiting hydroelectric power generation this summer and possibly causing a repeat of the blackouts that hit the state last year. The situation has sparked debates about whether California should slow down its conversion to renewable energy.
Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom, who helped negotiate the closure of the state’s last nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, backtracked and pledged to keep the plant, which generates about 10% of the state’s energy, open for several more years. . Newsom is running for re-election in November and has been harshly criticized for not responding more forcefully to the state’s energy issues. Environmentalist and independent gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger, for example, accused Newsom of creating a joint water and energy crisis in the state by prioritizing environmental concerns over utility reliability. essential systems. Even with Diablo Canyon remaining open, California will have little room for error this summer due to its production capacity shortfall.
A few years ago, the United States celebrated a sort of energy independence by becoming a net energy exporter for the first time since 1952, thanks in part to the fracking boom. But the shutdowns of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, coupled with the inability of renewables to fill the resulting energy gap, have left parts of the country with little room for error amid a worsening global energy crisis. by the war in Ukraine. Although the United States is the most prosperous and technologically advanced country in the world – it alone has nearly 275 billion barrels of untapped oil – millions of Americans could suffer a summer of blackouts due to avoidable policy failures.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images