Late last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered his department to determine whether fundamental changes to the U.S. power grid, including the reduced use of coal-fired power, could affect the reliability of electricity. PACE has written often in recent years about threats to the availability of power posed by the closure of baseload power plants nationwide.
In an April 14th memo obtained by Bloomberg News, Perry underscores a number of the same concerns, asking department officials to determine whether federal policies toward renewable resources are accelerating the closure of coal and nuclear power plants and whether the “erosion” of baseload power sources could lead to a less stable grid.
“We are blessed as a nation to have an abundance of domestic energy resources, such as coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric, all of which provide affordable baseload power and contribute to a stable, reliable and resilient grid,” Perry wrote in the memo to his chief of staff. But in recent years, grid experts have “highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience.”
The news comes just days after PJM, the nation’s largest grid operator, released a study that found that too much reliance on natural gas could threaten the resilience of its system, which spans all or part of thirteen states including coal-heavy states such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri.
During times of crisis such as a cybersecurity attack, an extreme weather event such as a Polar Vortex, or a pipeline disruption, it is critical that the grid has access to a variety of baseload power sources. PJM’s report warns against too much reliance on natural gas for power production and highlights the importance of maintaining coal as part of the energy mix. The resilience of the grid, PJM reasons, is best served by large shares of fossil fuel options combined with other complementary sources.
As the Department of Energy and organizations such as PJM continue to weigh the best approach to ensuring grid reliability and resilience, we hope that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will step up to look seriously at the future of the grid. Unless we fully acknowledge the risks associated with diminishing the role of reliable energy sources such as coal and nuclear power, we continue to run the risk of jeopardizing the grid that today serves American families and industry so well.