As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today questioned a panelist of experts from the energy and utilities industries about America's electric grid stability and reliability.
After this winter's Polar Vortex, much of the country experienced extremely cold temperatures, which created an unprecedented demand for electricity and pushed the electricity grid to its limits. Senator Manchin asked the panelists about current federal regulations and the shift in electricity production from coal to renewables. He also questioned demand-response accessibility during the winter season and the overall volatility of electricity production in the markets.
Please read Senator Manchin's opening remarks as prepared for delivery below.
Thank you, Chairman Landrieu and Ranking Member Murkowski for holding this important hearing today. As you know, my colleague Senator Portman and I wrote to you both last month, urging you to have a hearing on grid reliability and stability, and I am so pleased you have done so in such a timely and thorough way.
There are two fuels that keep the lights on in America: coal and nuclear. These are our "baseload fuels" and they provide over 60% of our power. They run 24/7, 365 days a year. Without these baseload fuels, our grid cannot function and we cannot keep the lights on.
Keep in mind that coal will provide about 30% of our power for at least the next three decades. As you are doing that, think about the fact that nearly 20% of the coal fleet is being retired. Add the fact that EPA's proposed New Source Performance Standard rule will effectively ban the construction of any new coal plants, and you see that our reliability crisis is getting much worse.
Coal isn't the only baseload fuel in jeopardy--nuclear units are also slated for premature retirement, and given current market conditions, it is unlikely any new ones will be built. Yet we may need to replace as many as 100 nuclear units by 2050 if their licenses are not extended again.
How can the system continue to work for the long haul under this sort of strain? It can't. We are setting ourselves up for a major reliability crisis.
All we have to do is look to the recent freezing weather to get an idea of what could happen.
During the Polar Vortex this winter, a whopping 89% of AEP's coal units that are slated for retirement were running at full capacity to meet the peak demand during this time.
In fact, at one point, according to PJM, the system was only about 500 megawatts -- or a single-unit-- away from a crisis.
Where does this leave us? We need coal. We need nuclear. We need them along with gas, wind, solar, and hydro. But without these two workhorse fuels providing baseload power 24/7, 365 days a year, we will not be able to guarantee the reliability of our grid. And in the face of another weather crisis like the Polar Vortex, one or two years from now, make no mistake: the grid will fail and people will die--our elderly and most vulnerable people.