Monday, October 2, 2023 -
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Renewables can hurt

“Clean coal.” It’s touted and supported by all. Just one problem. It doesn’t exist. It’s just a phrase. A hope. An aspiration. And a recent report on the nation’s electrical grid highlights the difficulties facing the nation as it tries to diversify its energy sources and free itself of dependence on Middle Eastern regimes for oil. The line to energy independence will not be straight.

Listen to the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an industry body authorized by the federal government to enforce reliability rules for the interlocking system of electrical power generation and transmission. This corporation recently issued a report that should give pause to all those who tout renewables as energy salvation. Two such renewables are energy from wind and sun. What would happen if, in fact, we had already developed extensive power based on wind and sun? Blackouts would increase and the nation’s electrical grid would become unreliable, says the report. The reason? The grid is not designed for large power transfers over extremely long distances.

Presumably, this could be cured. That’s not the point, which is that the pursuit of alternative sources of energy without fully integrating that pursuit into our current energy foundation will not work. Analogously, the headlong rush into production of corn for ethanol did not take into account the damaging results for soil, for food production and for the release of food-based gases into the atmosphere. It is not enough to discover and to develop a renewable source of energy. A total, integrated approach is required.

Right now, rules in 27 states and four Canadian provinces requiring the reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions could impose new demands on the electrical grid. The complex cause-and-effect runs something like this: The mandate to reduce carbon emissions could lead to the shutting down of coal plants located near load centers, with the substitute power coming from wind turbines or solar plants far from load centers, in remote areas. This would require the transmission of large amounts of power over extremely long distances. Our electrical grid is not built for that.

In other words, well meaning attempts to protect the environment, singularly focused, can do damage. Obviously, the electrical grid can be strengthened in order to handle large amounts of power over extremely long distances, but that would require two things now in short supply: (a) a global vision, an integrated approach to energy independence; and (b) investment.

In other words, the attempt to go green is on a collission course with the current electric utility reliability, according to Kenneth W. Farmer, executive director of the Beauregard Electric Cooperative of DiRidder, Louisiana. However, the solution — the construction of new power lines —typically runs afoul of the the efforts of preservationists. Bottom line: Everybody needs to be around the table as we work to protect the environment and to win energy independence. Otherwise, the seemingly worthy efforts of those who back renewables, or off shore drilling, or enhanced environmental laws, will come into conflict. We shall all be left with less power, not more, wondering how it all happened.

Of course, one solution is to use less energy —to drive hybrid vehicles and to turn off the central air conditioning and the swimming pool pumps (for example). If we don’t make voluntary reduction of energy usage part of a new, integrated approach to energy independence, we shall find that the government or the utilities or both will impose usage limits. It’s coming. It’s the future — unless we become more sophisticated, more integrated, less knee-jerk in our support of renewables, “clean coal,” off shore drilling or anything else in isolation. There are no simple solutions to our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

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