PACE and others who follow energy policy have been very concerned about the impact of EPA regulations on grid reliability. Now several U.S. senators are joining this discussion and are expressing similar concerns. And they are beginning to understand that grid instability could happen sooner than we think.
Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on grid reliability. Strangely, no one from EPA was present, but the committee did hear from FERC, the CEO of AEP, a large utility that mainly covers the Midwest, and others.
The message conveyed to the senators was clear. The Midwest and Northeast dodged a major bullet during the polar vortex and were able to do so only because there was plenty of base load power generation available. Utilities like AEP had to put everything they had into play, especially coal, nuclear, and natural gas.
A big challenge created by EPA’s regulations, according to FERC Commissioner Phillip Moeller, is that we are faced with an unprecedented energy shift in a very short time frame. Moeller expressed the need for a formal review of regulations that would include not only EPA, but also FERC and non-governmental entities.
AEP CEO Nicholas Akins did not mince words as he told the senators that the country dodged not a bullet last winter, but a cannonball. He reminded them that during the cold snap, 89 percent of the coal-fired plants that will be retired in 2015, due to EPA regs, were running out of necessity. He said one reason for that was a number of natural gas plants were unable to access fuel quickly, a good argument against heavy reliance on one source of base load power.
Although most of us take grid stability for granted, this issue is real and right on our doorstep. EPA needs to consider reliability, not just environmental impacts, when it makes regulations and rules. As Senator Manchin (D-W.Va.) said at the hearing, “We’re setting ourselves up for a major reliability crisis.” And that crisis could come as soon as next winter.