MINOT, N.D. — "Carlee McLeod, president of Utility Shareholders of North Dakota, which represents investor-owned utilities, said the state’s grid is both adequate and reliable for the time being — and worries of rolling brownouts are baseless."
That's what my colleagues Adam Willis and Patrick Springer reported in a story covering the pushback against the burgeoning and heavily subsidized wind industry in North Dakota.
“We don’t have the concern because we know we have both resource adequacy and reliability,” McLeod told the reporters. “We feel these fears at this moment are unfounded.”
That "at this moment" bit sounds like weasel words, don't they?
What about the next moment? Shouldn't assertions about something as essential as our power grid's reliability be a bit more forward-looking?
What McLeod and other advocates and lobbyists are trying to gloss over with furious messaging campaigns is that our grid, thanks to the departure of baseload power like coal and the rise of intermittent energy like wind, is increasingly unstable.
The only thing that has kept our state free of the sort of blackouts and brownouts seen in places like California and, most recently, Texas is luck.
On at least three recent occasions the power grid which serves most of North Dakota nearly ran out of electricity. That's per testimony submitted to the North Dakota Legislature's interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee.
Bitterly cold weather in January of 2018 and January of 2019 caused MISO — the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or "the power grid" in our part of the world — to seek energy from neighboring grids. In September 2018, scorching temperatures forced a similar outcome.
The "luck" in this equation is that our neighboring power grids had the energy to spare. If they didn't, our lights (and heaters and air conditioners and cable modems, etc..) would have gone dark.
Make no mistake that wind and other intermittent energy sources upon which our power grids are increasingly dependent is what's driving this problem.
"California's aggressive push to abandon natural gas for solar, wind, and other renewable sources to meet its goals of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide blamed for rising global temperatures has left the state vulnerable to outages during heat waves as the sun sets and solar power fades," the San Jose Mercury News reported last year when that state's rolling blackouts left hundreds of thousands of Californians short of power.
In the middle of a pandemic, no less, when many of those people were trying to work or get educated from home.
Texas is struggling with similar blackouts amid historically cold temperatures. One of the prime culprits is wind, which cannot be relied upon during extreme weather when Americans need reliable power the most.
"Rolling power outages could sweep across the state through Tuesday if demand outpaces supply as expected because of the bitter cold," the Dallas Morning News is reporting. The state primary electrical grid is already taking power from neighboring grids and may still take more, but it may not be enough.
Meanwhile, many of the state's wind turbines aren't spinning. "Nearly half of Texas' installed wind power generation capacity has been offline because of frozen wind turbines in West Texas, according to Texas grid operators," the Austin American-Statesman tells us.
This is happening after Texas, like North Dakota, has experienced explosive growth in wind power driven, in no small part, by massive corporations eager to capture the federal government's lucrative subsidies for wind power production.
"Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of energy in Texas' power grid. In 2015 winder power generation supplied 11% of Texas' energy grid. Last year it supplied 23% and overtook coal as the system's second-largest source of energy after natural gas," the American-Statesman reports.
Wind's defenders like to deflect criticism by suggesting that it's natural gas, not wind, pushing the reliability of coal power off the grids. That's true, to a point — when the grid is out of power, the portion wind accounts for is as important as any other — but that trend has its own problems. For instance, per the Dallas Morning News: "Demand is one of the issues facing the power grid, but the cold is causing other problems, too. Electric generators are vying for natural gas as people turn to that fuel for heating."
Also, gas faces some of the same political headwinds coal does. President Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris have both made statements about banning fracking, a drilling technique that has been central to unlocking America's massive gas reserves.
Meanwhile, America has abundant coal reserves, and the progress toward cleaner production of coal energy is a verifiable fact, as a matter of history, and the progress continues today.
Wind activists try to convince us that coal is old and busted and being replaced because of market forces. But that's not true. Coal is cheap and reliable, even in the most extreme weather conditions, but departing our power grids because of government incentives and political pressure.
That's making our communities less secure.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.