The latest Biden energy crisis
Story by Matthew Kandrach
When it comes to the nation’s supply of energy, the United States has an unfortunate tendency of stumbling from one
crisis to another. Just as we turn the corner on energy-driven inflation and the shock of a global energy crisis, there is a new crisis now on the horizon: the rapidly eroding reliability of the nation’s supply of electricity.
The situation is increasingly dire and made so by a spectacular failure of policy. In one congressional hearing after another, the nation’s energy regulators, grid operators, and utilities have warned that we’re bungling the energy transition.
U.S. electricity demand is on the verge of skyrocketing, driven by electrification, as in the rapid uptake of electric vehicles and the stunning growth of data centers and artificial intelligence.
Just as demand is beginning to soar, the Environmental Protection Agency and a host of state clean energy mandates are forcing traditional sources of power — namely coal and natural gas plants — off the grid. Unfortunately, replacement renewable energy capacity and its enabling infrastructure, such as high-voltage interstate transmission lines — aren’t materializing nearly fast enough to bridge the gap between what’s needed and what’s currently available.
A theoretical mismatch between supply and demand is now turning into an on-the-ground crisis from one coast to the other.
Potential supply shortfalls during periods of peak demand — think scorching heat or bitter cold — is a new reality for most of the country. This summer, for example, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the regulator overseeing the reliability of the nation’s power supply, has warned that two-thirds of the nation is at high risk of outages should we see extended heat waves stretching across multiple states.
So singularly focused on meeting carbon reduction goals, the Biden administration is pretending the grid crisis all but doesn’t exist. While EPA is pushing through a blitz of rules targeting fossil fuel plants that will only accelerate the loss of essential capacity, the folks tasked with keeping the lights on are begging for a rethink.
Jim Robb, president and CEO of NERC, told Congress, “We must manage the pace of the transformation [of the grid] in an orderly way, which is currently not happening.” When asked if the generating capacity EPA’s power plant regulations are forcing into retirement can be replaced with renewables without affecting reliability, he said, “Not in the time frame we’re looking at. No.”
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Mark Christie testified that “the United States is heading for a reliability crisis.” He added, “I do not use the term ‘crisis’ for melodrama … The core problem is this: dispatchable generating resources are retiring far too quickly and in quantities that threaten our ability to keep the lights on.”
Even FERC Chairman Willie Phillips, hand-picked by President Joe Biden, testified, “I am extremely concerned about the pace of retirements we are seeing of generators which are needed for reliability on our system.”
What’s particularly appalling is how unnecessary this crisis is. At Biden’s direction, the EPA has hijacked the nation’s energy policy. Congress must now step in to right the ship.
There’s an obvious off-ramp. Instead of tearing down the generating capacity we have, which currently underpins the system, we should be adding to it. New additions of wind and solar power should come on the shoulders of existing plants, increasing available capacity and providing an expanded reliability backstop.
Despite claims to the contrary, there is nothing easy or simple about reshaping the nation’s supply of power. Trying to do so as electricity demand soars is a doubly difficult task. It’s past time we stop demonizing the coal and natural gas plants that are the very backbone of reliable, affordable power and instead pump the brakes on EPA’s regulatory march.
The warnings couldn’t be clearer about the grid crisis we now face.
When — not if — the blackouts come, the culprit won’t be a heat wave, bitter cold, or a technological glitch. It will be the Biden administration’s unwillingness to pivot from a grossly irresponsible and dangerous agenda.