EPA Threatens Grid Reliability

As a follow-up to last Friday’s article on the importance of coal if we are to have an abundant supply of low-cost electricity, it’s important to note that rapid closure of coal-fired power plants could create shortages of electricity and blackouts.

This isn’t a hypothetical problem. Summer temperatures this year in the northeast, southwest and Texas have hit records which resulted in new peaks that nearly wiped out reserve margins. Older coal-fired power plants were called upon to provide the needed electricity. Without these older coal-fired plants, there would have been rolling blackouts. Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported on this threat.

While a legitimate business case can be made for closing many power plants built before 1960, their closure must be done in an orderly manner and allow sufficient time to build replacement units.

As it stands, the EPA’s rules will require rapid closure of older, and some newer, coal-fired power plants.

Grid operators are raising a red flag and warning that the EPA must adjust its rules to prevent shortages of electricity.

Grid operators are responsible for maintaining the reliability of our supply of electricity. Five of the grid operators (see note) have written to the EPA asking the EPA to allow some units to remain in operation even if they do not meet the EPA’s new rules.

Grid operators have traditionally required that each grid have a reserve capacity of around 10% so that the system can meet sudden peaks, such as those caused by air conditioning loads on hot days.

The grid operators said:

“If the impact of the EPA rulemakings increases retirements to the point of creating reliability violations without providing for adequate time to respond to the reliability concerns, this could undermine the reliability of the electric grid for an unacceptable prolonged period.”

Failure of the EPA to heed this warning from the grid operators could result in 146 million Americans seeing their supply of electricity threatened. The United States will be like Third World countries, where electricity is not available when needed.

This will be a test of whether the EPA’s war against coal preempts everything else.


Note: Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), PJM Interconnection (PJM), and Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

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