In the past five years, there has been a shift in the conversation in regard to our power grid and energy policy from one based in reason, and experience, to one based on political rhetoric and snark. While we were once unified with the bipartisan and sensible policies of "baseload," "all of the above energy," and continually diversifying our energy portfolio we have instead seen radical shifts in policy which have had disastrous consequences in states like Texas this past month, and are potentially equally dangerous in states like North Dakota should they ever be adopted.
First, we must start at the beginning, with the policies that make North Dakota a leader in the energy sector, and once made Texas a prolific exporter. In the 1990s and 2000s, we adopted policies to encourage all forms of energy in what was then called "all of the above energy." These policies which encouraged development of coal, natural gas, wind, solar, and even nuclear positioned us as an energy exporter and a diversified energy producer. Much like our farmers don't plant a single crop, our state decided to invest in all the different forms of energy production such that should any singular type of energy go through unexpected turbulence, we could not only provide energy security to North Dakota but also serve as the energy basket of the Midwest. As a result, North Dakota power provides stability to states from Minnesota to Oklahoma. It's our energy that keeps the lights on when the going gets tough!
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The key to an all of the above export energy strategy, however, depends on the concept of a baseload. Baseload power is power which is not subject to the whims of commodities markets, and is able to maintain high levels of production regardless of environmental or fiscal situations. In order for an all of the above energy strategy to succeed, there must be an understanding that each part of the grid provides a different service. In North Dakota, our baseload is coal, which is capable of providing 100% of our energy load at any given time [meaning that even if all other forms of power were to fail North Dakota's lights would stay on]. This used to also be the policy of states like Texas and California, but over time coal was phased out in favor of natural gas, and in more recent years, all forms of fossil fuels have been being eliminated.
When you abandon the baseload philosophy, is when you start riding the razor's edge. In our committees we heard testimony about how Texas has more than 30% of its market in renewables, and this has created multiple "close calls" where their grid almost failed. It was only a matter of time before the perfect storm would hit; where their renewable production would falter, and their commodity backup would face a price squeeze.
Texas, in theory over that weekend had the ability to turn on its natural gas plants to fill the gap, but due to massive spikes in prices , it couldn't afford to turn on the plants. Wind's volatility meant it wasn't able to produce power in the given climate, and natural gas had also failed, so what about the "baseload." Texas had eroded its baseload to less than 30% of the grid, and suffered the consequences; blackouts and total grid failure.
North Dakota needs to see the mistakes of Texas, and ensure it never happens here. We will continue to develop our more volatile energy products (those dependent on commodities or the weather), but we also must continue to understand the value of the baseload. "All of the Above" energy will continue to be our paradigm, but unfortunately, the market isn't currently pricing in the value which base load and capacity brings. Think of our coal plants like an insurance policy, when things are going well you wonder why you bother to carry it, but when things go wrong, it's protects from disaster. The policies Texas abandoned would have saved them in this energy crunch, and serves as yet another reminder that we can't just plan for the good times, we have to also protect our citizens from the bad times
Sens. Jim Roers, R-Fargo, and Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, serve in the North Dakota Senate.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.