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U.S. needs energy reliability and affordability, not outages

Americans have been hoping for economic recovery and a return to normalcy. Instead, they’re experiencing ongoing pandemic concerns and the ravages of wildfires and hurricanes. And adding to their woes, they’re now increasingly worried that the electricity grid on which they depend could fail when they need it most.

Blackouts in the West this summer, frequent power conservation notices, and a week-long blackout in Texas this past February (that cost hundreds of lives) have left Americans increasingly concerned about grid reliability. According to new polling, 72 percent of Americans are troubled by the speed of the nation’s transition to intermittent, renewable sources of power–and that it’s coming at the expense of grid reliability. They’re worried, and they want a plan to ensure the grid remains reliable as this energy transition advances.

Unfortunately, planning isn’t what they’re getting. Instead, Washington appears intent on accelerating this transition without any serious concern for how to manage the challenges of a grid increasingly reliant on weather-dependent energy sources. The same polling also shows that, while Americans want to advance the deployment of renewable energy, they want it done responsibly in tandem with existing energy systems–not in place of them.

It’s a reasonable request, and it echoes some of the same warnings coming from energy regulators. For example, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)–which oversees the reliability of North America’s power grid–has issued increasingly urgent warnings about mounting reliability challenges.

NERC CEO Jim Robb observed that “in our hurry to develop a cleaner resource base, reliability and energy adequacy has to be taken into consideration.” He added, “I know that operators and planners are working very, very hard to preserve reliability, but they’re continually asked to do so and manage your grid under more and more challenging conditions.”

If policymakers are aware of these warnings–and are at all concerned–they certainly aren’t acting like it. Since Europe’s green energy agenda seems to be the model for what’s being proposed in Washington, perhaps Green New Dealers should pay closer attention to what’s happening across the Atlantic.

Europe’s rush to decarbonize has come with economy-cratering consequences. Not only are utilities across Europe concerned that they won’t be able to keep the lights on, but the cost of energy is soaring. Wholesale electricity rates in Germany–already the most expensive in Europe–have jumped 60 percent this year. In Britain, regulators are expected to approve a request from utilities to raise rates for a second time this year, just to keep up with costs. And in Spain, electricity prices are now double what they were two years ago. A less reliable supply of power and soaring costs are not the right path forward for Americans. Instead, policymakers must put affordability and reliability front and center in the ongoing energy transition. A balanced electricity mix that preserves fuel security while using existing energy infrastructure and resources is not only a responsible approach, it’s the one Americans demand.

Matthew Kandrach is president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market advocacy organization.

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