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Port: You need to understand what type of power is keeping your air conditioner running as temps soar

When it gets really hot, or really cold, I look at where our power is coming from. And I, likely a far more prolific consumer of news and commentary than most of you given my job, am consistently surprised when it's still the fossil fuels, still coal and natural gas, keeping the lights on.

PHOTO: Coal Creek Station
Coal Creek Station, North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant.
Contributed / Great River Energy
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MINOT, N.D. — If the only data you had to go on were the rhetoric of popular politics, you would think that we were well on our way to transitioning from fossil fuel energy to renewables like wind and solar.

The perception, perpetuated by activists and commentators and a certain brand of politician, is that fossil fuels are irrelevant in the modern economy.

They're old and busted. No longer needed or wanted. The future, they tell us, is solar and wind.

But if we look at where the energy that keeps your air conditioner running, and your lights burning, and maybe even your electric car charging, it's not wind and solar.

Not even close.

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We've had a heat wave over the last week or so. That's the sort of thing that drives up power demand as our air conditioners kick in. If you had checked while sweltering through the high temperatures and humidity, you would have seen that most of the power you were relying on was not coming from wind and solar.

Miso Power Mix.png
A pie chart showing the live power mix numbers displayed on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator website. This image was captured on Monday, July 18, 2022, at 8:15am EST.
Screencapture

You really can check that sort of thing. In North Dakota, we're served by two electrical system operators that provide all of our energy. One is the Midcontinent System Operator, or MISO, and the other is the Southwest Power Pool , or SPP.

On their websites, you can track, in almost real-time, the mix of power being delivered to our homes.

What you'll find is that it's still, despite what popular politics has led you to believe, mostly fossil fuels keeping you comfortable.

My spot-checks during the recent heat wave showed MISO's mix consisting of somewhere around 45% coal, 40% natural gas, just around 5% or so of combined wind and solar.

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The SPP is a bit more dependent on wind energy, but even there coal is consistently making up 45 to 50% of the mix, with wind at just 15%, and solar almost nonexistent.

I write a couple of columns like this every year, usually when our region's notorious weather does the sort of thing that makes it so notorious. When it gets really hot, or really cold, I look at where our power is coming from.

And I, likely a far more prolific consumer of news and commentary than most of you given my job, am consistently surprised when it's still the fossil fuels, still coal and natural gas, keeping the lights on.

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Maybe you're surprised, too.

I keep thinking, given the frantic political push behind "green" and "renewable" energy, that it might be different this time. That wind and solar might be something more than tiny minority, sometimes just a rounding error, of our energy mix when at these critical junctures when the weather makes electricity not just a convenience but a necessity.

But nothing changes. It's the same story, over and over again.

Reality is one thing. Politics are another.

Though perhaps it's high time that the latter began to more accurately reflect the former.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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