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Blackouts Likely From Biden’s Power Plant Rules, Finds Study

By Isaac Orr & Mitch Rolling

In early August, four of the largest electric grid operators in America warned that President Biden’s proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing fossil-fueled power plants would undermine the reliability of the U.S. electric system. These grid operators have legitimate reasons to worry because, as it turns out, Biden’s EPA never conducted a basic reliability analysis to see if its proposal would keep the lights on 24/7. This was a massive error.

Stepping up to provide part of this missing analysis, a new report by Center of the American Experiment—where we work—found that the new EPA rules and subsidies for wind and solar in President Biden’s so-called “Inflation Reduction Act,” (IRA) would cause devastating blackouts in one of the largest regional electric grids in the country—the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO)—currently serving 45 million Americans in a geographic footprint stretching from Minnesota to Mississippi.

One of the blackouts was so large that it accounted for 20% of the grid, simultaneously blacking out the entire states of Wisconsin and Minnesota in the month of January, one of the coldest months of the year. Losing access to electricity, and therefore home heating, during this time can have deadly consequences, as the Texas 2021 blackouts showed where an estimated hundreds of people died.

How did Biden’s EPA proposal result in such large blackouts? They didn’t build enough power plants.

EPA’s modeling suggests the new regulations on carbon dioxide emissions and the IRA subsidies will make the grid increasingly dependent on unreliable energy sources like wind turbines, solar panels, and battery storage facilities by forcing reliable coal-fired power plants to shut down before the end of their useful lifetimes. This leaves the reliability of the electric grid, the most important infrastructure we have as a nation, up to the whims of the weather.

While EPA’s modeling also built new peaking natural gas plants, it didn’t build nearly enough to replace retiring coal plants and meet future growing electricity demand when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

Make no mistake, EPA’s proposal is gambling with the fate of the electric grid by relying on weather-dependent resources because sometimes, wind and solar generators produce large quantities of electricity, and sometimes, they produce almost no electricity at all. It is during these periods of low wind and solar output that our modeling determined EPA’s proposal will cause the lights to go out, resulting in billions of dollars in economic damages.

Speaking of billions of dollars, we were also interested in calculating how much money it would cost to meet EPA’s proposed carbon dioxide emissions reductions in its proposed rules without rolling blackouts, which would require building many more wind turbines, solar panels, battery storage facilities, and natural gas plants.

Building these additional power plants would increase the cost of complying with the Biden Administration’s carbon dioxide regulations by $246 billion through 2055, which means a family of four would see their electric bills increase by an average of $683 every year. This constitutes a massive amount of money for many American families that are already struggling to pay their bills due to inflation.

While the EPA claims that it carefully considered the importance of electric reliability when crafting these rules, despite not conducting a reliability analysis, our modeling shows the EPA proposal would be dangerously unreliable because it depends too heavily on intermittent wind and solar power. Meeting the Administration’s emissions targets without these massive blackouts would cost hundreds of billions of dollars in one regional grid alone, imposing severe financial hardship on millions of American families.

As the four largest regional grid operators said in their report, “hope is not a strategy” when it comes to the nation’s power grid. Unfortunately for us, the Biden Administration’s proposed EPA rules leave us with few other options.

Isaac Orr and Mitch Rolling are policy fellows specializing in energy and environmental policy at Center of the American Experiment. 

Originally published by RealClearEnergy. Republished with permission.

For more on electric power reliability, click here.

Isaac Orr and Mitch Rolling
Isaac Orr and Mitch Rolling
Isaac Orr and Mitch Rolling are policy fellows specializing in energy and environmental policy at Center of the American Experiment. 


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