Monday, April 28, 2014

Good News - Electricity to Get More Expensive, Less Reliable

I've had the first article sitting in the browser for days, just waiting for inspiration. The second just pushed it over the line, although they have similar themes.  Curiously, the first is from the left-wing Los Angeles Times, and the second from the right-winged Heartland Institute.

U.S. electricity prices may be going up for good

One recent study predicts the cost of electricity in California alone could jump 47% over the next 16 years, in part because of the state's shift toward more expensive renewable energy.

"We are now in an era of rising electricity prices," said Philip Moeller, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who said the steady reduction in generating capacity across the nation means that prices are headed up. "If you take enough supply out of the system, the price is going to increase."

In fact, the price of electricity has already been rising over the last decade, jumping by double digits in many states, even after accounting for inflation. In California, residential electricity prices shot up 30% between 2006 and 2012, adjusted for inflation, according to Energy Department figures. Experts in the state's energy markets project the price could jump an additional 47% over the next 15 years.

The problems confronting the electricity system are the result of a wide range of forces: new federal regulations on toxic emissions, rules on greenhouse gases, state mandates for renewable power, technical problems at nuclear power plants and unpredictable price trends for natural gas. Even cheap hydro power is declining in some areas, particularly California, owing to the long-lasting drought.

"Everywhere you turn, there are proposals and regulations to make prices go higher," said Daniel Kish, senior vice president at the Institute for Energy Research. "The trend line is up, up, up. We are going into uncharted territory."

New emissions rules on mercury, acid gases and other toxics by the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to result in significant losses of the nation's coal-generated power, historically the largest and cheapest source of electricity. Already, two dozen coal generating units across the country are scheduled for decommissioning. When the regulations go into effect next year, 60 gigawatts of capacity — equivalent to the output of 60 nuclear reactors — will be taken out of the system, according to Energy Department estimates.
You know what else happens when you reduce the amount of available electricity?  It gets less reliable:

America's Power Grid at the Limit: The Road to Electrical Blackouts
Environmental policies established by Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are moving us toward electrical grid failure. The capacity reserve margin for hot or cold weather events is shrinking in many regions. According to Philip Moeller, Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, “…the experience of this past winter indicates that the power grid is now already at the limit.”

EPA policies, such as the Mercury and Air Toxics rule and the Section 316 Cooling Water Rule, are forcing the closure of many coal-fired plants, which provided 39 percent of US electricity last year. American Electric Power, a provider of about ten percent of the electricity to eastern states, will close almost one-quarter of the firm’s coal-fired generating plants in the next fourteen months. Eighty-nine percent of the power scheduled for closure was needed to meet electricity demand in January. Not all of this capacity has replacement plans.

In addition to shrinking reserve margin, electricity prices are becoming less stable. Natural gas-fired plants are replacing many of the closing coal-fired facilities. Gas powered 27 percent of US electricity in 2013, up from 18 percent a decade earlier. When natural gas is plentiful, its price is competitive with that of coal fuel.

But natural gas is not stored on plant sites like coal. When electrical and heating demand spiked in January, gas was in short supply. Gas prices soared by a factor of twenty, from $5 per million BTU to over $100 per million BTU. Consumers were subsequently shocked by utility bills several times higher than in previous winters.
Electrical blackouts have become far more common now than they were in my youth, though possibly my perception is warped by having grown up in the weatherless regime of Southern California, although I recall similar reliability in NorCal and Oregon.

Shockingly, I blame the government.  Power producers would be happy to produce and sell all the power they could, and produce systems that deliver it reliably and without interruption if they could. However, there is a strain in modern government in the United States that no industry flourish if they can help it.

Certainly the Malthusian enthusiasms of the environmental movement are responsible for a large fraction of this.  No method of power production is good enough, clean enough to satisfy their demands. It's not so much that they love the environment, it's just that they hate humanity.

Cheap, reliable electrical power is most of what separates us from the 19th century. I, for one, don't want to go there.

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