July 2021 /// Vol 242 No. 7

Features

Opinion: Council says heat wave underscores need for smart energy policy

The threat of lost power—and the accompanying stress and angst—are the result of energy policy decisions unmoored to reality. A sensible and realistic energy plan would acknowledge not only the need for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but also improving the affordability, reliability and resilience of our nation’s electric grid.

Tim Tarpley, Energy Workforce & Technology Council

The scorching heat wave that smashed temperature records across the western United States, raised the specter of blackouts again in California, Texas and throughout the Southwest. The combination of extreme heat and power outages is a recipe for dangerous conditions, especially for the most vulnerable among us—lower income, elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

Grid problems rooted in failed energy policy. The threat of lost power—and the accompanying stress and angst—are the result of energy policy decisions unmoored to reality. A sensible and realistic energy plan would acknowledge not only the need for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but also improving the affordability, reliability and resilience of our nation’s electric grid.

Energy policy should not be a partisan issue. These are technical problems that can be solved.  America has some of the most advanced grid infrastructure in the world, as well as tremendous reserves of domestic natural gas. There is no excuse for us to struggle in providing energy to Americans. We must do better in anticipating our energy needs and do the work of making sure we have sufficient capacity to meet those needs.

Abundant energy can be clean. Major electric grid failures are more common than they were just a few years ago. Researchers from Georgia Tech found that blackout events—those with a duration of at least one hour and affecting 50,000 or more utility customers—increased more than 60% over the most recent five-year period. These blackouts don’t need to happen. They can be prevented with realistic energy policy that leverages America’s abundant resources and invests in the technologies and infrastructure needed to provide clean, abundant and reliable energy.

We’ve already shown that it’s possible. Since 2005, the U.S. increased energy generation 4% while reducing carbon emissions 27%, mostly by switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. Given supply chain and intermittency challenges associated with renewable energy sources, any realistic energy policy must include a significant role for natural gas. Natural gas-fired power plants partner well with wind and solar production. Natural gas can be turned on and off, as demand spikes, and when wind and solar are less reliable.

Satisfying the third truth. As lawmakers debate climate and infrastructure legislation, it’s useful to acknowledge some truths. First, we must move to a lower-carbon future. Second, energy demand is rising. Third, the U.S. can lead the way worldwide with technology, innovation, and cleaner fuels.

The first two are self-evident. The third is one that could go either way, depending on the actions of policymakers. The federal government could impose ideological restrictions and mandates that starve the technology-and-services sector of the capital and resources needed to deliver the breakthrough technologies we need. Or, with smart policy, it can invest in the men and women, who have innovated to overcome huge challenges on a global scale, and support exports of cleaner-burning natural gas to allies and developing nations, to provide reliable energy and lower emissions.

Policy support is required, because we’re already seeing reports of countries in Asia and Europe turning to coal when natural gas supplies run low, and renewables can’t keep pace with demand. Developing countries seeking cheap and reliable energy may also invest in coal, if bad policy constrains natural gas production or the U.S. is no longer seen as a reliable source of LNG exports to our allies. These investments could offset any progress made on carbon emissions in the U.S. and the West.

Keeping the vision. The U.S. is home to vast natural gas reserves. These resources can create high-paying jobs in the U.S. while slashing carbon emissions around the globe and improving national security by providing a reliable domestic energy source at home. Moving toward a lower-carbon energy future while facing increased energy demand is a daunting task, but America has accomplished much larger endeavors before. The ingenuity of the men and woman of the U.S. energy industry, and the vast resources of our country, can lead the world through this transition and ensure that we have the energy we need to continue to grow and thrive. 

The scorching heat wave that smashed temperature records across the western United States, raised the specter of blackouts again in California, Texas and throughout the Southwest. The combination of extreme heat and power outages is a recipe for dangerous conditions, especially for the most vulnerable among us—lower income, elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

Grid problems rooted in failed energy policy. The threat of lost power—and the accompanying stress and angst—are the result of energy policy decisions unmoored to reality. A sensible and realistic energy plan would acknowledge not only the need for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but also improving the affordability, reliability and resilience of our nation’s electric grid.

Energy policy should not be a partisan issue. These are technical problems that can be solved.  America has some of the most advanced grid infrastructure in the world, as well as tremendous reserves of domestic natural gas. There is no excuse for us to struggle in providing energy to Americans. We must do better in anticipating our energy needs and do the work of making sure we have sufficient capacity to meet those needs.

Abundant energy can be clean. Major electric grid failures are more common than they were just a few years ago. Researchers from Georgia Tech found that blackout events—those with a duration of at least one hour and affecting 50,000 or more utility customers—increased more than 60% over the most recent five-year period. These blackouts don’t need to happen. They can be prevented with realistic energy policy that leverages America’s abundant resources and invests in the technologies and infrastructure needed to provide clean, abundant and reliable energy.

We’ve already shown that it’s possible. Since 2005, the U.S. increased energy generation 4% while reducing carbon emissions 27%, mostly by switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. Given supply chain and intermittency challenges associated with renewable energy sources, any realistic energy policy must include a significant role for natural gas. Natural gas-fired power plants partner well with wind and solar production. Natural gas can be turned on and off, as demand spikes, and when wind and solar are less reliable.

Satisfying the third truth. As lawmakers debate climate and infrastructure legislation, it’s useful to acknowledge some truths. First, we must move to a lower-carbon future. Second, energy demand is rising. Third, the U.S. can lead the way worldwide with technology, innovation, and cleaner fuels.

The first two are self-evident. The third is one that could go either way, depending on the actions of policymakers. The federal government could impose ideological restrictions and mandates that starve the technology-and-services sector of the capital and resources needed to deliver the breakthrough technologies we need. Or, with smart policy, it can invest in the men and women, who have innovated to overcome huge challenges on a global scale, and support exports of cleaner-burning natural gas to allies and developing nations, to provide reliable energy and lower emissions.

Policy support is required, because we’re already seeing reports of countries in Asia and Europe turning to coal when natural gas supplies run low, and renewables can’t keep pace with demand. Developing countries seeking cheap and reliable energy may also invest in coal, if bad policy constrains natural gas production or the U.S. is no longer seen as a reliable source of LNG exports to our allies. These investments could offset any progress made on carbon emissions in the U.S. and the West.

Keeping the vision. The U.S. is home to vast natural gas reserves. These resources can create high-paying jobs in the U.S. while slashing carbon emissions around the globe and improving national security by providing a reliable domestic energy source at home. Moving toward a lower-carbon energy future while facing increased energy demand is a daunting task, but America has accomplished much larger endeavors before. The ingenuity of the men and woman of the U.S. energy industry, and the vast resources of our country, can lead the world through this transition and ensure that we have the energy we need to continue to grow and thrive.  

The Authors ///

Tim Tarpley Tim Tarpley is the SVP of Government Affairs at the Energy Workforce & Technology Council.

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