Via David Wojick
It’s no secret that the US power grid is becoming unreliable. The secret is who’s fault. I don’t know who to blame, so it’s hard to fix.
If I could raise my hand, I bet almost no one has heard of North American Electric Reliability Corporation. These are called NERCs that are homophones to jerk. They are a private corporation with federal authority to keep America bright. NERC makes and enforces regulations governing the reliability of the electrical grid in the United States. The looming threat of multiple blackouts is their fault. It is clear that they have failed to maintain reliability, which is their specific mission.
The power grid is getting sicker.
The reason for this growing unreliability is well established. It’s been a frenzy to replace reliable coal and nuclear power plants with weather-dependent solar and wind power. This simply doesn’t work and we are starting to pay the price of insanity. We must limit and manage the penetration of renewable energy to maintain reliability. Given that the battery costs are so great, even assuming excellent cost reductions, powering the grid with wind and solar is unlikely. Reliability requires creating full backups.
Last spring, NERC released a major report warning of the potential for power outages across the US in the summer of 2022 and for the foreseeable future thereafter. This fall, they warned us about the possibility of a power outage in the coming winter.
My question is, instead of this pending disaster report, why didn’t NERC prevent it? What is under-reported and seemingly little known is that the NERC is a quasi-federal agency tasked with maintaining credibility. Clearly NERC is failing.
NERC sets the reliability standards that the electrical industry must follow. These federal standards are supposed to be enforced by NERC’s regional subsidiaries. Obviously this process didn’t work or we wouldn’t have faced widespread blackouts. Why not?
Background, NERC was originally a Council, not a Corporation. It was founded in 1968 as a voluntary industry body after a major Eastern blackout in 1960. It became a corporation when it was “federalized” around 2006. It is accountable to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the United States, but also includes Canada. NERC creates and enforces Reliability Standards with both countries.
Here is the NERC mission statement: “Vision for Business The Electrical Reliability Organization, comprising NERC and six Regional Entities, is a highly reliable and secure bulk electrical system in North America. Our mission is to ensure effective and efficient risk reduction to the reliability and security of the power grid..”
This vision is clearly inconsistent with NERC’s warning that widespread power outages could befall the United States.
Here’s what NERC has to say about its Reliability Standards: “The NERC Standards Program ensures bulk power system reliability by developing quality reliability standards in a timely, effective, clear, consistent, and technically sound manner. art.”
If the NERC standard program is said to be “guarantee reliability” of the grid, it is clear that their standards are inadequate. NERC simply doesn’t solve this big problem.
The reported unreliability has gotten pretty bad. The number of uninterrupted outages in the United States has increased from less than 12 hours in 2000 to more than 180 in 2020. On average, utility customers have increased from 8 hours of outage per year in 2013 to 16. hours in 2020. Since then, we’ve experienced catastrophic blackouts in Texas and many other blackouts of warnings and losses.
Looking ahead it got much worse. The Biden Administration’s stated goal is for an electricity system to produce zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2035, just 13 years from now. That means shutting down all fossil fuel plants, which now provide more than half of America’s electricity.
Meeting the incredible goal of the Biden Federalist Plan is clearly a major threat to credibility. Given that this goal was announced more than a year ago, NERC should have developed standards to protect reliability during this called-out transition. Either that or the NERC should say that phasing out fossil fuels in 13 years is simply not reliably possible. I find no indication that NERC or any of its Regional Organizations are even considering this astonishing scenario. The studies that I have seen are limited to about 50% renewable energy and even these do not lead to standards.
Furthermore, many utilities are posting apparently unreliable power generation plans, replacing nuclear and fossil fuel plants with wind and solar power with very little storage needed. The NERC should blow the whistle about these unreliable schemes. NERC is clearly not up to its mission.
NERC is funded by a tax on utility sales. It is therefore paid for by the very entities it regulates, which sounds like a very bad plan. Its rule-making is also largely done by committees, which are governed by regulated utilities. This reliance on utilities may explain why NERC never exposed the reckless behavior of the utility that led to the current precarious grid. One could say that not only is the utility fox in the chicken coop reliable, the fox is also running and sponsoring it.
There are 93 NERC Reliability Standards. It has nothing to do with controlling for the adverse impact of renewables on reliability. Reliability must be restored and maintained. NERC has the authority to develop proposed Reliability Standards to limit and manage the growth of renewable energy.
If NERC does not act, FERC has previously asked NERC to develop specific Reliability Standards. Not long ago, they ordered a whole set of Cybersecurity Standards. This kind of Order may be just what is needed to limit the current reckless transition from reliable fossil fuel production to intermittent, weather-dependent wind and solar power.
In addition, if NERC and FERC fail to act, Congress should authorize them to do so. In the past, bills have been introduced to direct FERC and NERC to develop specific standards, so this is not unheard of.
Save America’s Power Grid!
This article is adapted from my “The Price of Madness” in the winter issue of Range Magazine. See http://www.rangemagazine.com/ for the cowboy spirit in all of us.
David Wojick Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. For the origin see http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html
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