‘Recipe for blackouts’: Millions of Americans face power outages thanks to green energy transition

Thomas Catenacci, DCNF

  • Americans are increasingly exposed to rolling blackouts and other emergency power measures as state officials struggle to replace fossil fuel power generation with wind and solar.
  • “You’re doing everything you can to increase the demand for electricity while constraining supply,” Jonathan Lesser, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview. “Well, that’s a recipe for blackouts. Simple as that.”
  • “As we move forward, we need to know that when you put a solar panel or a wind turbine up, it’s not the same as a thermal resource,” John Bear, the director of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, told The Wall Street Journal.

Consumers nationwide are facing a summer of blackouts as utility companies and local governments continue to push a rapid transition to renewable energy.

Independent operators of major regional electric grids serving tens of millions of Americans have recently warned that as temperatures rise this summer, they may have to resort to scheduled blackouts and other emergency measures to prevent significant wide-scale impacts. For several years, states have unveiled laws mandating a green transition and prohibiting fossil fuel infrastructure, forcing U.S. energy providers to plan renewable energy infrastructure upgrades worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

“You’re doing everything you can to increase the demand for electricity while constraining supply,” Jonathan Lesser, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has experience in the utility industry, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview. “Well, that’s a recipe for blackouts. Simple as that.”

Wind and solar energy accounted for 14.5% of net power generation across sectors in the U.S. in February, up nearly double from five years ago when such sources produced 8.5% of total grid generation, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). In February 2012, ten years ago, wind and solar produced just 3.6% of net generation.

“On one hand, you have people pushing for complete electrification,” Lesser added. “And on the other hand, they don’t seem to recognize that, if you do that, you’re going to have to increase the supply of electricity by a huge amount and wind and solar just aren’t going to cut it.”

Lesser said that solar and wind are unreliable given their intermittent nature; solar produces just 26-29% of its capacity while wind produces about 43% of its capacity, EIA data showed.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which is responsible for operating power grids across 15 midwestern states and parts of Canada, warned on April 28 that capacity shortfalls would force it to conduct “controlled outages” throughout the summer. More than 15% of the region’s energy was produced by wind and solar while roughly 70% came from thermal sources like coal and natural gas, according to the latest data from MISO.

“As we move forward, we need to know that when you put a solar panel or a wind turbine up, it’s not the same as a thermal resource,” MISO director John Bear told The Wall Street Journal.

California officials, meanwhile, warned Friday that the state would be short 1,700-5,000 megawatts of power leaving 1-4 million residents without electricity, Reuters reported. The state, which has led the nation in transitioning to renewables, relies on wind and solar for more than 24% of its power, according to the California Energy Commission.

“We need to make sure that we have sufficient new resources in place and operational before we let some of these retirements go,” California Independent System Operator COO Mark Rothleder told reporters, according to Reuters. “Otherwise we are putting ourselves potentially at risk of having insufficient capacity.”

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on April 29 that he would support an effort to keep the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant in a sudden reversal after favoring its closure for years. Newsom changed his mind in light of the expected power supply shortfall this summer, a spokesperson told the DCNF at the time.

Faced with similar shortage concerns, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said last week that it was prepared to “deploy all available tools to manage the grid reliably” amid unseasonably high temperatures, according to Power magazine.

In addition, New York could see blackouts as the state continues to push green energy and shutter nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, according to Empire Center for Public Policy senior policy analyst James Hanley. He noted a New York Independent System Operator report that said plants are being closed “faster than new resources are being developed.”

“Unless action is taken now to revise the way New York pursues its climate goals, the state will have insufficient electrical power to meet demand by 2040, making the risk of a catastrophic blackout unacceptably high,” Hanley wrote in a May 3 blog post.

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