By Fred Palmer, Senior Consultant, Net-Negative CO2 Baseload Power, Inc.
March 2, 2023 - In 2017, at the end of their time in office, the Obama/Biden Department of Energy published Valuation of Energy Security for the United States. The report cites the National Academy of Engineering as characterizing the United States’ electricity grid (then dominated by coal power) as the most important engineering feat of the 20th century. The report is thorough and persuasive. Here is one important quote:
“Electricity is essential for supporting and sustaining nearly every sector of the modern economy ranging from industrial output and services to national security. A secure, reliable electric power sector is necessary for economic growth, public safety, societal well-being and proper functioning of critical infrastructure, national security defense, lifelong networks transportation communications, water and sewer. Without access to reliable electricity much of the economy and all electricity-enabled critical infrastructure are at risk. These include our national security and homeland defense network, which depend on electricity to carry out their missions to ensure the safety and prosperity of the American people.” (page 97).
The electricity discussed by Team Obama then included coal power. There was no call by President Obama to eliminate coal, in any time frame, because of CO2 emissions.
Fast forward six years and Team Biden have decided, for the American people, that coal needs to be eliminated. The remaining domestic coal power plant fleet is at great risk from the Biden Administration both through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory assault on coal and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Both actions continue to accelerate premature coal power plant retirements, which in turn have negatively impacted our electricity reliability and increased electricity cost to consumers. Lower reliability and higher cost have real impacts on our national economic health and national security. Notwithstanding these fact-based concerns, President Biden has been clear in advancing his goal to eliminate coal power plants in the United States but has not put forth a strategy to replace this reliable, cost-effective electricity production. John Kerry, on behalf of the Biden Administration, at COP27 in Australia last Fall stated “we won’t have coal” by 2030. No doubt this statement was based on both the anticipated impact of forthcoming energy legislation, which ultimately manifested itself in the form of the IRA, and EPA’s coal power regulatory plans. At no time has the President or his staff discussed any future role for coal power for electricity in the United States no matter the consequences to the American people and national security.
Realities on the ground, right now, suggest that we are on a path to scarce and expensive electricity, and impaired national security. Renewables have enjoyed significant tax credits for three decades and the IRA substantially increases those tax credits at great cost to the U.S. taxpayer and ultimately to our national debt. The continuation, and now increase, of these renewable tax credits is grossly misplaced. Intermittent renewables are already cost-competitive and thus don’t warrant subsidies in a free market. Further, their intermittency is affecting electricity system reliability. So, taxpayers are subsidizing an energy source that is already cost competitive without requiring it to be reliable. According to the National Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), 70% of our national grid is at risk of blackouts. By any measure, this is unacceptable and unnecessary. The IRA largely ignored the opportunity to use taxpayer money to develop technologies across the energy spectrum that would simultaneously assure reliable, affordable, clean electricity. Adding a reliability requirement and providing low carbon-emitting technologies the opportunity to apply for tax credits, would have allowed continued use of all domestic energy sources, including fossil with carbon capture, nuclear, and renewables with storage.
The Biden version of the Green New Deal will not achieve its target carbon reductions and is simultaneously wildly expensive. We are seeing a foreshadowing of this cost with electricity price increases this past year at twice the rate of inflation.
Notwithstanding the attacks on coal, coal is still in play and a brighter future is both needed and possible. Too, as things stand today the existing fleet must be maintained for the reasons stated by Team Obama in 2017. And yes, that team included now-President Biden. As JFK once said, “don’t curse the darkness, light a candle”. What follows is a path forward to light the candle for United States Coal.
Starting with EPA, they need to focus on their Mission described on their webpage: “Our Mission and What We Do”. The very first standalone statement reads:
“The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has this to say about human health and energy, which includes electricity: “Energy and health are inextricably linked. Access to clean, sustainable and affordable energy plays a crucial role in advancing health”.
Coal plants in the United States are fewer in number today, but they continue to play a crucial role in providing us with the always available and affordable lifegiving electricity that is a necessity for human health and welfare. And in the electricity space, it was the Obama/Biden Energy Department, which aligns with the WHO conclusion, and forever brands electricity as the lifegiving force that it is.
Next, amend the production and investment tax credit provisions in the IRA to make these credits available to any energy source, if they can meet minimum low-carbon and high reliability requirements. This would create fuel-neutral tax policy parity. Fossil sources with CCUS could qualify. Renewables with storage could qualify. No energy source would get added incentives without addressing both carbon and reliability.
Net-Negative CO2 Baseload Power, Inc. is working closely with members of Congress to develop legislation that creates tax policy parity. For a look at work product and education efforts of Net-Negative CO2 Baseload Power, Inc check COALZOOM.COM under Saving US Coal.
For a deeper dive on what is going on today in the coal power plant and electricity world check out America’s Power (AP) (americaspower.org). There you will find a true description of the state of coal and national electricity problems today. The work of AP shows the depth of concern and the need to preserve the existing coal fleet.