Thoughts from Joe From Texas
Multiple recent news headlines have hinted that there could be “rolling blackouts” of electricity during the 2023 winter season. Although blackouts are possible in several regions of the country, including some in the south, one article in U.S. News focused on why blackouts are possible in the state of Maine. “Much of the grid's power comes from burning natural gas, and right now that fuel is in shorter-than-normal supply and is subject to supply chain disruptions,” said Gordon van Welie, CEO of ISO New England.(https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/maine/articles/2021-12-11/rolling-blackouts-possible-this-winter-regional-grid-warns)
One of the factors responsible for the projected shortage of natural gas and the resulting higher prices is that “demand has increased primarily because of coal-fired power plants switching to natural gas,” according to Forbes. Other causes are attributed to increased LNG exports by U.S. companies and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.(https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2022/09/25/us-natural-gas-production-sets-a-new-record-but-dont-expect-relief-on-your-heating-bills/?sh=6803398415f4)
So, you may ask, how did we end up in this situation? Why are many sections of the U.S. being warned of possible rolling blackouts in a nation so rich with energy resources? There can be no doubt that at least part of this can be attributed to Biden’s war on fossil fuels, which extends to coal as well as oil and gas. In early November 2022, Biden said in reference to electricity generation plants powered by coal: "We're going to be shutting these plants down all across America and having wind and solar."(https://news.yahoo.com/biden-comments-coal-fired-plants-152524704.html)
In response to Biden, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) made some remarks that Joe From Texas believes are right on target. Manchin said Biden’s comments were “outrageous and divorced from reality” because they don’t recognize “the severe economic pain the American people are feeling because of rising energy costs. Comments like these are the reason the American people are losing trust in President Biden and instead believe he does not understand the need to have an all-in energy policy that would keep our nation totally independent and secure. It seems his positions change depending on the audience and the politics of the day.” (https://news.yahoo.com/biden-comments-coal-fired-plants-152524704.html)
H.W. Pirkey Power Plant, Hallsville, TX
On November 5, 2020, two days after the 2020 election, AEP Southwestern Electric Power Company announced that the company would be closing the Pirkey Power Plant in March 2023. Pirkey is a coal-fueled plant located in Hallsville, a small community with a population of around 4,400 people in northeast Texas. The company announced that this decision was made because of the cost of compliance with revised EPA rules. (SWEPCO to retire Pirkey Power Plant in Hallsville in 2023 | Local | news-journal.com)(https://energycentral.com/news/swepco-retire-pirkey-power-plant-hallsville-2023)
The closure will result in the loss of 260 jobs in the small community of Hallsville. Of the jobs lost, 106 will be direct losses by employees who work at Pirkey. The remaining 154 will be lost at the Sabine Mine, a Hallsville coal mine that supplies Pirkey and will also be closed as a result of the plant closure. (Pirkey Power Plant, Sabine Mine closures subject of community meetings | News | marshallnewsmessenger.com)
If you run the numbers based on the population of Hallsville, you find that almost 6% of the population of the town is employed by Pirkey and Sabine. The retired superintendent of Hallsville Schools, Doug Coleman, said the closures are “going to devastate our community. There’s a number of things it’s going to affect, of course, not only in Hallsville but all the surrounding areas. Marshall, Kilgore, Carthage, you know, small communities with blue-collar workers, and it’s going to devastate them.”
Eco regulations force massive coal plant to shut down, sparking community uproar | Fox Business
The closures are expected to result in a loss of $22 million in sales and economic output for the region. Brad Burris, a real estate agent who serves as President of the local school board, stated that the closures will hit the school system very hard. "We're going to lose probably about $2 million a year in funding, tax funding, from that plant shutting down. So, that's going to affect us in a great way, as well as other school districts," said Burris. This is expected to result in the loss of dozens of jobs within the school system. (Eco regulations force massive coal plant to shut down, sparking community uproar | Fox Business)
A Fox Business report referenced several employees of the mine who agreed to make statements about the closures. They made the statements on the condition that they could remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.
The first miner stated, “We have a little room that we gather in and have our safety meetings and stuff where they called a meeting and actually let everybody just go home that day because we were overwhelmed with stress, just so many emotions. I told my wife that I don’t know what we’re going to do. We just had a baby and she was going to school. It was a lot. You know, it’s the same impact on others, I’m not the only one
The second miner said, “I was shocked that this plant would be closing because over the years we have been a very efficient plant, low-cost, and we put in the features that the EPA asked for to keep down emissions. We’re doing everything on our end. It was just a whole change of life for me as far as my retirement because I’m 54 years old now. So, I’m not old enough for retirement, but I’m too old to really get out and try to find another job.”
The third miner stated that he is concerned that the closure of the Pirkey plant in favor of renewable energy will lead to higher costs of electricity for consumers. He said, “you’re going to spend an astronomical amount of money to make that happen. All that money is going to transition to ratepayers. It impacts me and then not just me. It’s my family and friends, everybody in the surrounding area and even the vendors that we deal with each and every day.” (Eco regulations force massive coal plant to shut down, sparking community uproar | Fox Business)
What does all of this mean?
Although, as we learn from the comments above, many of the devastating implications of the Pirkey and Sabine closures within the local community are evident, Joe From Texas believes there are even more serious implications for all of us. This brings us back to the beginning of this piece when we referenced predictions of rolling blackouts. At a time when our power generation capabilities appear to already be strained, Joe Biden is not doing anything to make the situation better. The truth is he is making it worse by doing nothing to address our electricity generation problems, while at the same time pushing everyone toward electric vehicles. This will only increase the need for additional electricity.
In December 2020, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a non-profit group that studies electric power and transmission issues, issued a reliability assessment on electric power in the United States. They predicted that electric power generation shortfalls would occur in many parts of the country over the next several years “without action by policymakers.” Michelle Bloodworth, CEO of America’s Power, an organization that advocates the need for coal power generation, released a statement about the NERC assessment. Said Bloodworth, “We believe the reliability risks are greater because there could be an additional 30,000 MW or more of coal retirements beyond those that NERC assumed in its analysis. That’s why we continue to be concerned about the impacts of accelerated coal retirements on grid reliability.” (NERC Long-Term Reliability Assessment Underscores the Importance of Examining Impact of Increased Coal Retirements on Grid Reliability - America's Power (americaspower.org)
In short, because of Biden’s reckless policies, rolling blackouts in many parts of the country could be an increasing threat for years to come unless the administration and congress wake up and bring some sanity to this transition to renewables. They can accomplish this by placing a hold on regulations that are causing many power plants to shut down, at least until other reliable sources of power generation to replace them are actually up and running.