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EPA Putting Electricity Grid At Risk

America's Power Mike Duncan

When the temperature dips below freezing, reliable electricity becomes more than a matter of convenience but a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, the reliability of our electric grid is at-risk due to EPA regulations that are shutting down America’s coal plants.

Existing EPA regulations already have led to the scheduled shutdown of nearly 20 percent of the U.S. coal fleet. EPA’s newest carbon regulations being finalized this summer will lead to even more shutdowns. With coal responsible for generating nearly 40 percent of America’s electricity, these shutdowns will further strain our nation’s electricity grid and could leave many Americans in the dark this winter.

The electricity grid was already stretched to its limits last winter, when the polar vortex led to dramatic and sustained drops in temperature across much of the United States. This cold snap created an increased demand for energy, as fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil were needed to heat homes.

Utilities and energy experts agree that America’s electricity grid was barely capable of handling last year’s demands. PJM Interconnection, which serves 13 states in the mid-Atlantic, reported that they were within 2,000 megawatts of calling rolling blackouts across their service area. Utility company AEP had to call upon 89 percent of their coal-fueled generation scheduled to be retired this year in order to meet last year’s demand. FERC Commissioner Phillip Moeller told Congress that “the experience of this past winter indicates that the power grid is now already at the limit.”

If the grid was at its limit last year, things are only going to get worse as more coal plants are shutdown. There are already discouraging signs this winter. Earlier this month, Duke Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority asked customers to conserve electricity due to concerns about the strained grid and potential blackouts.

In addition to coping with less reliable electricity, Americans are also facing skyrocketing utility costs. Natural gas is frequently used as a substitute for coal, but the demands being placed on gas are too great.

Unlike coal, gas is not usually stored at power plants but has to be transported via pipelines. When electricity demand spikes, utilities must purchase extra gas at expensive spot prices and then have the ability to get that gas delivered through a pipeline network that is already congested. This increases costs. Last winter, natural gas prices rose more than 20 percent and many customers received utility bills that were hundreds of dollars higher than usual.

Rather than recognize this danger and adjust course, the Obama Administration continues to move forward with regulations that will shutter more power plants, destroy electric reliability, and dramatically increase costs.

Cold in the DarkThis winter, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is embarking on a “Cold In the Dark” campaign to educate Americans about the risks they face from EPA regulations. Through online videos, ads and an educational website, KeepAmericasPowerOn.org, we will make sure people understand why their utility bills are skyrocketing and why their power may go out.

Coal-based electricity is a critical resource for the United States and is essential for the reliability of our nation’s electrical grid. That is why when it comes to energy, Americans deserve an “all of the above” strategy not just an “all of the above” sound bite.

Robert “Mike” Duncan is president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.