08 Nov 2022

Double Whammy Today –Triple Play Looms

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Mere days before the 2022 mid-term election, President Biden asserted that all of the coal mines in the U.S. would be closed and production of coal would end. One day before said election he stated emphatically there would be no more drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. It defies reason to believe he’s purposefully tossing an anvil to his party’s candidates. How can any U.S. President advocate measures that are clearly contrary to the national interest and counter to the wishes of the vast majority of the electorate?

Quite simply, he believes these measures ARE in the nation’s best interest, public sentiment and elections be damned. The folly at work here is impossible to calculate. Gasoline prices are near all-time highs, natural gas is critical for backup to intermittent “green” wind and solar generation and worldwide supply teeters on the whims of the Saudis and Russia. Coal and oil and gas supply millions of jobs nationally and the commodities are critical to West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania — three swing states — not to mention states with hydrocarbon-based economies including, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Mexico, Alaska and to a lesser degree Colorado, Kansas and Arkansas.

As if those aren’t sufficient challenges to U.S. energy security, the country’s less-than-stable electricity grid will face accelerated burdens as incentives and mandates for electric vehicles and public transport grow. And as fossil fuels are phased out, pressure on the grid to make up the difference will grow.

And what about that grid? Hydroelectric capacity is declining as the drought in the West is having grave consequences. Lake Powell which supplies Colorado River water to turn the Hoover Dam turbines, plus, water for large portions of Arizona, Nevada and California. It is at historic low water levels. The danger of insufficient water to generate electricity is real. In Washington, the Grand Coulee Dam on the
Columbia River is likewise experiencing reduced flows and consequently eroding power generating capacity.

A look back at some power generation failures include the great New York blackouts of 1965, 1977 and 2003. In 2019 Californians experienced what was termed a public safety power shutoff initially due to fire hazards related to Pacific Gas & Electric equipment being endangered by high winds. Ultimately more than three million customers of multiple utilities were affected. The California Public Utilities Commission apologized for ineffective oversight of the grid.

Then just last year to Texas power grid failed in record cold temperatures. Eleven-plus million Texans lost power for days and more than 700 citizens lost their lives. It was not the first such blackout in Texas. In 2011 extreme cold caused the state to implement rolling blackouts.

The U.S. power grid is made up of three regions with an aggregate of more than 7,300 power plants and some 160,000 miles of high voltage power lines and millions of miles of low-voltage power lines and distribution transformers connected approximately 150 million customers throughout the U.S. Renewables supply about 20 percent, nuclear power another 20 percent, coal provides 19 percent, natural gas 40 percent and petroleum one percent.

Some simple math gives a bottom line effect of President Biden’s mandate: fully 60 percent of U.S. electricity generation sources would/will be subtracted — by choice — from the power generation equation. Solar and wind combined are less than 15 percent. That is just the domestic downside.

International hostilities are at recent extremes. The incursion at the U.S. southern border includes more than Hispanics — drug dealers, terrorists, common criminals and foreign agents are also among the migrants. It’s easy access for Russian, Chinese and Middle East enemy agents. Can the U.S. power infrastructure be insulated from foreign sabotage? Overt attack? If attacked, can it be rapidly reconstituted?

Some facilities are reasonably secure. Hoover Dam generates roughly four billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power each year for use in Nevada, Arizona and California. The PolicySmith was privileged to tour the inner workings of the dam and the enormous room housing the guts of the facility’s power generation and distribution. The senior staff responded to our inquiry relating to security and the level of measures in place. “Obviously, we cannot go into specifics — but rest assured we closely follow efforts to sabotage power generators around the world. We believe we have a pretty good handle on how that might occur — and — we have measures in place to neutralize any such occurrence and we are constantly reviewing and refining those.”

That is at least some comfort in view of Russia’s overt attacks on Ukraine power generation and water supplies and installations. Nevertheless, President Biden’s double whammy on coal and domestic drilling bodes ill for energy security in the short term — unless 2022 election results dictate a direction change…and the 2024 election brings a large dose of sanity to foreign policy/diplomacy, domestic infrastructure security and most especially, domestic energy policy.

If it were possible to convey one message to this administration — any administration for that matter — it would be: Please keep in mind that our military aircraft, naval capabilities, ground forces and domestic manufacturing will not function, not for decades if ever, on solar, wind and biomass. We need coal, natural gas and oil produced domestically. We are at the opposition’s mercy (or lack thereof) without these. Increased nuclear capacity wouldn’t hurt either!

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