MINOT, N.D. — It's been a hot summer, as is often the case in our part of the world.
This week, in particular, has been a scorcher. We've all been leaning on our electrical grid to keep those air conditioners running and our homes and offices bearable.
And guess which source of energy has been keeping those air conditioners running? It's not been wind or solar but the much-maligned coal plants. The ones the various activists and green energy lobbyists have been telling us are irrelevant.
Anachronisms from a by-gone age.
This early afternoon, when temperatures are hitting their highs and electrical demand is peaking, I took a look at the real-time energy mix numbers for the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) grid, which serves North Dakota and much of our region to the south and east.
Coal, at that time, was providing over 45% of the energy for the grid. Natural gas 35%, and nuclear at nearly 12%. Wind and solar combined for just over 4%.
I also looked at the numbers for the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) grid, which serves the parts of North Dakota not covered by MISO and points south and west. Again, coal has been carrying the load.
Coal was at 48.2%, with natural gas kicking in 33.8% and nuclear nearly 5%. Wind and solar combined provided less than 8%.
At this point, some of the blinkered anti-coal agitators will point out that these numbers prove a point. It's natural gas that's eating up coal's market share, not wind and solar.
Natural gas has been promoted as a way to backstop intermittent energy sources like wind and solar — gas "peaking plants" can be cycled up and down much more quickly than coal or nuclear plants — and there are problems with leaning so heavily on it.
Price volatility is one. Those of us who pay electrical bills in our region are currently footing the bill for a natural gas price spike over the winter. Americans entered the summer air conditioning season with natural gas prices that were 96% higher in June than the year before. Natural gas production, you should remember, is tied closely to oil production.
We all know how volatile the oil markets can be. Why should it surprise us that the gas markets are also a figurative roller coaster ride? And remember, the politics around natural gas — which, again, is still part of the fossil fuel industry — are as volatile as its prices.
The same sort of anti-fossil fuel activism that's aimed and coal and oil is aimed at natural gas as well, even as we become more dependent on it as a source for electricity.
Is that what we want for electrical prices? Constant and unpredictable peaks and valleys of the same variety we see with gasoline prices?
Coal prices, meanwhile, are stable. The output of coal-fired power plans is reliable and predictable. And, with some investment in human ingenuity, we're moving so close to cracking the code on carbon emissions with capture technology, among other initiatives, that the anti-coal activists are in meltdown mode.
The activists, lobbyists, and political pundits want you to believe that coal is dead, even as we rely on coal to keep our homes comfortable and our businesses open.
Maybe it's time we got outside the bubble of their fabulism, driven as it is by ideology and crony capitalism, and lived in the real world?
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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.