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Institute for Energy Research: Wrecking the U.S. Electric Power Grid



November 13, 2023The Institute for Energy Research issued the following agency statement on Nov. 8, 2023:


Key Takeaways

1.   Michael Bloomberg , the New York Billionaire, has just pledged another $500 million to shut down coal and natural gas electrical generating plants in favor of wind and solar power.

2. The plant closures have resulted in skyrocketing electricity prices, an increasingly frail electric grid, and low reserve margins that threaten massive blackouts.

3. Germany has gone down the wind and solar path  President Biden  and Bloomberg want the U.S. to tread, which has made Germany the worst performing economy in Europe as it is deindustrializing.


4. China and India are burning historical amounts of coal and building plants to burn even more, releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions.


President Biden's  push for renewable energy in the generating sector and the billions that Biden and philanthropists like  Michael Bloomberg  are spending to rid the U.S. of coal plants and to drastically reduce natural gas plants will destabilize the U.S. electric power grid, damaging transformers and causing long-term outages, experts say.  Michael Bloomberg  pledged $500 million in September toward shifting electricity production in the United States to wind and solar energy and shutting down its coal- and gas-fired plants. That donation adds to the $500 million  Mr. Bloomberg  pledged in 2019 to "finish the job on coal" and "accelerate the clean energy transition to reach the goal of 80 percent of total electricity generation" from renewables, according to an official statement. Bloomberg Philanthropies stated, "With 372 of 530 coal plants announced to retire or closed to date--more than 70 percent of the country's coal fleet--this next phase will shut down every last U.S. coal plant." The effort also slashes natural gas plant capacity in half, and blocks all new gas plants.


Europe has tried to transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar power and its efforts have failed. For instance, twenty years ago, Germany instituted "Energiewende" (energy transition) and has discovered the cost of electricity has skyrocketed. Germany spent hundreds of billions of euros to build wind and solar facilities since 2002, doubling its power generation capacity and boosting the share of renewables in the generation sector to 60 percent from about 10 percent. Despite the capacity increase, its electricity production has remained flat and the promise of lower electricity rates has not materialized. Instead, Germany's "Energiewende" has delivered an increasingly unreliable electric system at a cost to consumers that is higher than virtually every other developed country. Germany is now in the process of de-industrializing and searching out lower cost energy countries to manufacture the products they once proudly did.


Because wind and solar power have significantly lower capacity factors than fossil fuel and nuclear plants, a greater amount of capacity is needed to produce the same amount of power. Also, as wind and solar power are weather-driven and intermittent, expensive battery back-up is required, which politicians do not consider when they push renewable energy, telling the public that wind and solar are almost free as they have no fuel cost. As Germany's prices show, this is not the case.

Capacity Factors


The capacity factor for wind and solar is about 35 percent and 25 percent, respectively, compared to roughly 92 percent for nuclear and 85 percent for coal and natural gas when they are allowed to operate 24/7 and not just to back-up solar and wind plants. Wind and solar facilities are dispatched before coal and gas plants because they have no fuel cost and are therefore cheaper to operate once built.


The Closure of Coal and Gas Plants Is Eroding Reserve Margins


Reserve margins measure the amount of unused available capacity of an electric power system as a percentage of total capacity, i.e. the amount of capacity over expected peak demand. At one time and before the current trend of closing coal plants, electric utilities typically ran their power generation systems with a 20 percent installed reserve margin over expected peak demand. That reserve margin was to ensure that consumer demand would be met even during unpredicted events. The reserve margins, however, have been eroded with the transition to renewable energy as dependable plants have been shuttered. According to the Energy Information Administration, coal and natural gas plants will account for 98 percent of plant closures in 2023. Electric utilities have shuttered an average of 11 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity per year between 2015 and 2022.


If electricity supply does not match demand, the grid's hardware could be severely damaged, leading to long-term outages. Because wind and solar power are unpredictable sources, an auxiliary source of power is needed to balance it and most of that balancing power currently comes from natural gas. Many U.S. utilities are expanding their wind and solar capacity but not adding reliable backup facilities, hoping that they can draw on other regions when there is a shortfall. They are also drawing on emergency reserves, using the reserve as the auxiliary to balance their wind and solar projects.


Experts warn that operating so close to the margin is very dangerous. In 2015, former CIA Director  James Woolsey  was asked what would happen to Americans if the electric grid went down for an extended period. He testified before the U.S. Senate that there are two estimates on how many people would die from hunger, starvation, lack of water, and social disruption. "One estimate is that within a year or so, two-thirds of the United States population would die. The other estimate is that within a year or so, 90 percent of the U.S. population would die."


Even the North American Energy Regulatory Corp. (NERC), which monitors America's grid reliability, has warned that large segments of U.S. electricity infrastructure could become unstable because of a too-rapid retirement of dispatchable fossil fuel plants.


Wind and Solar Incentives


Despite the failings of wind and solar power, the Biden administration has increased their subsidies. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed entirely by Congressional Democrats and signed into law by  President Biden , provides nearly $400 billion in grants, loans, and investment tax credits to build facilities and production tax credits to subsidize the energy they produce. On top of that are state laws and mandates that force utilities to prioritize the purchase of wind and solar power over coal and gas. New Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules mandate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions limits and carbon capture requirements that will force utilities to transition away from coal and gas. Biden's climate agenda includes a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy no later than 2050.


Electric Bills Increase Even With Incentives


According to a 2022 study by McKinsey, "The transformation of the global economy needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 would require $9.2 trillion in annual average spending on physical assets, $3.5 trillion more than today." That means as the transition to renewable energy accelerates, consumers will continue to see their electric bills rise.


As North Carolina-based Duke Energy began to shutter its coal plants and build out a renewable infrastructure, utility bills quickly jumped by 20 percent. Wyoming residents are protesting a 29 percent increase in their electric bills, as their utility, Rocky Mountain Power, is transitioning to renewable energy. Wyoming is America's top coal producer. However, its share of coal generation in 2022 dropped to 71 percent of electricity generation from 97 percent. At the same time, the share of wind power rose to 22 percent. Rocky Mountain Power claims that the price increases are because of higher coal and gas prices, but the residents are not believers.


In addition to the cost of a duplicative generation system, whether using gas plants as back-up or expensive batteries with energy obtained from excess wind and solar power, there is the cost of building a massive transmission network to connect urban areas where the electricity demand is concentrated to remote locations where it is windy or sunny with ample amounts of land to harbor enormous facilities. These costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher energy bills.


According to  Mark Mills , a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the cost to store energy in grid-scale batteries is about 200-fold more than the cost to store natural gas to generate electricity when it is needed." He said that "$200,000 worth of Tesla batteries, which collectively weigh over 20,000 pounds, are needed to store the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil." "Even a 200 percent improvement in underlying battery economies and technology won't close such a gap." To top it off, China controls the world's battery manufacturing industries, along with the supply chains that feed them.

Not All Countries Are Joining onto Biden's Climate Agenda


The United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions to about 5 billion metric tons in 2022, from about 6 billion in 2005. During that time, China nearly doubled its CO2 emissions to 11.5 billion metric tons from 6 billion metric tons and has announced plans for 100 new coal-fired plants in the coming years that easily produce power for 40 to 60 years. India also doubled its CO2 emissions during this time to a current level of 2.5 billion metric tons, and is continuing to use coal. For example, its coal production increased 19% year-over-year this October.


Advocates pushing renewable technologies, however, are not taking into account the CO2 emissions from mining and processing the critical minerals needed to manufacture the "green" technologies. Nor is there an accounting for the environmental damage from using often pristine land and seascapes to install and operate wind turbines and solar panels. According to the Brookings Institution, "Wind and solar generation require at least 10 times as much land per unit of power produced than coal or natural gas-fired power plants, including land disturbed to produce and transport the fossil fuels."




The process of shuttering coal and nuclear plants has left the country at the whim of the weather, and dangerously short of dependable power that can be adjusted to meet fluctuations in demand. Besides the risk of outages, the transition to wind and solar power is increasing electric rates as more transmission lines are needed to get the power from windy and sunny areas to demand centers and as expensive battery back-up is required. The true cost of wind and solar power are not being reported by the Biden administration and other politicians that want to push solar and wind power. It is also all for naught as whatever the United States reduces in carbon dioxide emissions will be quickly made up for by developing countries, particularly China and India, who are continuing to develop their economies with coal power.