Writing in Fuelfix, Consumer Energy Alliance’s President David Holt discusses the importance of addressing potential threats to the U.S. electricity grid with smart policies that ensure the efficiency and safety of our grid without inhibiting the generation of affordable energy.
There are threats to the U.S. electricity grid which can be prevented, threats that can be mitigated, and there are threats that can be avoided altogether. Let’s walk through each scenario.
We know how important it is to aggressively address vulnerabilities. The August 2003 blackout was the worst in recent U.S. history leaving an estimated 50 million people without power. Businesses closed. Factories shuttered. And families sweltered in August heat. A U.S. Department of Energy taskforce estimates the blackout caused between $4 billion to $10 billion in lost economic activity.
Improving grid infrastructure will prevent problems arising from known threats such as severe weather. Improving transmission technology will help the grid weather whatever Mother Nature throws its way – either in the form of blistering summer heat leading to spikes in A/C use or bitter cold winters causing people to raise the temperature on their thermostat.
Next, we have threats that can be mitigated. The recent attack on a California power station is one of several harsh realities we must better understand, and understand quickly. Part of the responsibility will fall to law enforcement, but part of it should also fall to the most innovative among us. Building an electricity grid which replaces choke points of vulnerability with a system of redundancies will remove the incentive that motivates terrorists in the first place.
The answer isn’t to build prison walls around power stations and transformers. Rather, we must employ smart policies that ensure the efficiency and safety of our grid without inhibiting the generation of affordable energy.
Finally, we have the threats which can be avoided altogether. The EPA will need to address several important questions: What will be the impact on power generation, how will electricity prices be affected, what, if any, assistance will the federal government provide to help reduce this burden on consumers, and, what is the timeline for any changes to our power generation?
Under the best case scenario, these EPA rules will require power generation facilities using coal to either upgrade their equipment or cease production. These facilities will then be replaced by natural gas, nuclear, alternative or renewable energy. Without clear leadership and an understanding of where our energy will come from, what sources are available and when and where new power capacity can be built, these rules will undoubtedly cause electricity prices to spike.
One scenario is not more dangerous than another – each identified threat presents a unique set of challenges. But, one theme is found in each solution – don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.