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Jack DeVine / May 26, 2022

Energy Reliability vs. Climate Heroics

Reliable and affordable energy is a goal every bit as noble — and far more likely to succeed — than a Paris Climate Accord.

How quickly things change. Not long ago, lulled into complacency by our energy independence, a vibrant economy and a seemingly peaceful world, we embarked on a noble quest to save the planet from climate change, regardless of cost or consequence.

Then came the reality strike: pandemic, soaring inflation, the horrific war in Ukraine — and perhaps the growing recognition that we can’t really “fix” climate change — all make clear the importance of reliable, affordable energy, and how easily it is lost. Cost and consequence matter.

Last week, CNN’s online daily newsletter What Matters reported on the warning from the North American Energy Reliability Council (NERC) that we can expect more frequent unplanned outages and rolling blackouts in the months ahead, similar to those we’ve seen in both hot and cold weather periods over the past few years.

They’re correct. The U.S. electricity generation and transmission system is increasingly unable to meet demands. But the official explanation is dead wrong. CNN and NERC blame it on what they call our “climate crisis” — extremes in temperature, drought, and severe storm activity that stress our system past its breaking point.

That’s not it. Our growing energy supply inadequacy is our own doing, the direct consequence of rushed, ill-considered shift to politically correct “green” electricity generation. We are systematically disabling a very effective U.S. energy supply by supplanting proven, reliable 24/7 power generation with systems that work only when the sun shines and the wind blows.

In short, it’s not climate change that’s causing power outages; it’s fear of climate change, and the flawed energy policy that follows.

And it only goes downhill from there. There are major and hugely disruptive changes ahead, including precipitous decline in nuclear power generation and huge additional electricity demand from electric vehicles.

Commercial nuclear power plants are rugged machines. U.S. plants are initially licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for 40 years of operation, but in nearly every case they can be kept running, safely, for decades longer. But the fleet of nuclear plants is, in a very real sense, a single vintage of nuclear technology — most plants were put in service over about a 20-year time frame, have operated together for decades, and are now together closing in on the end of their useful lives.

Of 117 licensed U.S. nuclear plants, 93 are still in service. Of those, more than half have already surpassed their originally licensed lifetimes. NRC license extensions permit continued operation — but these plants won’t last forever, and there are only two new ones currently on the horizon.

The net effect is that the nearly 20% percent of U.S. electricity consumption supplied by nuclear will disappear almost entirely over the next few decades.

While that power source declines, we are introducing a huge new block of electricity demand in the form of electric vehicles. The Biden administration and major auto manufacturers have agreed on the target of increasing new electric vehicle (EV) sales to 50% of all vehicles sold, compared to the current 1% — in just eight short years. Where will those shiny new EVs get their electricity?

And all the while, we’re actively phasing out our fossil-fuel electricity generation and simultaneously undermining the commercial viability (and hence future availability) of gas and oil production by canceling pipelines, withholding drilling permits, opposing fracking, etc.

In composite, it’s public policy at its worst: increase demand, cut down supply, and hope for the best.

It’s time to reboot. Our nation’s policies on energy supply and on environmental protection must be a compatible, matched set — with appropriate measures of responsible stewardship of the planet, respect for the needs of its inhabitants, and security of our nation.

For openers, I’d suggest several working principles:

  • Be realistic about our limitations. The earth’s climate will change largely of its own accord, just as it has for billions of years; and flora and fauna (including humans) must adapt to those changes, as they always have. We’re just along for the ride.

  • Be wary of tunnel vision on carbon emissions. Equally important to environmental protection are conservation of earth’s one-time supply of critical resources and rigorous, ongoing management of all waste forms.

  • As a good world citizen, help to provide affordable life-enhancing electricity to the world’s billions who have little or no access to it. That’s a goal every bit as noble — and with much greater success potential — than any Paris Climate Accord.

  • Get back to nuclear. It’s a proven, safe, clean, long-term energy source.

  • Energy independence is a priceless insurance policy. Few nations have that capability. We do, so don’t let it slip away.

Energy reliability and environmental protection — we can have both.

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