When a tanker full of mostly Russian-sourced liquefied natural gas (LNG) docked in Boston last winter to relieve New England of a self-imposed energy shortage, America’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy took on a new meaning. While it is doubtful that the importation of Russian energy is what federal officials envisioned as suitable policy, this is the unfortunate reality.
For New Englanders, their problems will likely get worse as the few nuclear plants they have left go offline in the relatively near future. Those plants, like the handful of coal plants in the region, are endangered species bound for extinction.
With Northeastern state governments refusing to allow the construction of proposed gas pipelines to move forward, blackouts in Boston could occur within the next few years. Even New England’s grid operator admitted in a shocking January report that the biggest threat to grid reliability is an insufficient fuel supply to run their region’s power plants during the winter.
What is playing out in New England could happen elsewhere, and highlights the important role that coal and nuclear still have in powering America’s electric grid.
Top-level officials have haphazardly pursued an ambiguous “all-of-the-above” energy policy for years while purporting to not play favorites. Yet just below the government’s upper echelons, federal and state policymakers indeed play favorites through subsidies, tax credits, and state mandates for certain energy sources. In turn, federal and state agencies have consistently imposed excessive regulations on nuclear and coal facilities. After a decade of these manipulative practices, it should come as no surprise that many nuclear and coal plants are prematurely closing nationwide.
With each shuttered plant, our energy independence is further eroded and our national security imperiled.
The renewables energy industry claims to be ready to step up to the plate. For that to be true, however, there would have to be a sudden emergence of economical, long-lasting energy storage systems. Despite the renewable industry’s virtues, it still relies heavily on the whims of Mother Nature and taxpayer subsidies.
There is one bright spot in our energy picture. The United States would be in dire straits if not for the shale oil and gas revolution. This sector has performed well while policymakers continue to drive nuclear and coal out of the marketplace. But even cheap, plentiful shale oil and gas have limitations. Germany, a globally-touted leader in clean energy, understands this and has been building new coal-fired plants to help keep their lights on. Also, many countries use high efficiency low emission technologies at their coal-fired plants to vastly reduce emissions.
In addition to providing affordable and reliable electricity on-demand, nuclear and coal provide resilient power during extreme weather. This was evidenced throughout much of the nation during the Bomb Cyclone last winter when temperatures plunged well below freezing. The US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) recently conducted a grid study on this weather event. In their conclusion they noted that the Bomb Cyclone “demonstrated that without the resilience of coal plants … — its ability to add 24-hour baseload capacity — the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages, likely leading to widespread blackouts.”
Critics of the NETL study say there was no risk to grid reliability, and the system performed well. But many of those critics assume that coal and nuclear will continue to remain part of the grid equation, and pay no mind to the closure trends. Nor do they acknowledge New England style policymaking metastasizing nationwide. For example, Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, wants to continue the efforts of his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, and impose cap-and-trade regulations designed by a conglomerate of Northeastern states to eliminate any form of fossil fuel produced domestically.
It is yet to be determined if Northeastern states will apply similar hostility to Russian-sourced LNG the next time foreign tankers arrive at their docks. In the meantime, we should recommit to a truly “all-of-the above” energy mix for our grid, and that means maintaining America’s fleet of coal and nuclear plants.
Keith J. Rothfus represents is Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. David B. McKinley represents West Virginia’s 1st congressional district.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.