I had to chuckle over the recent Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had rejected Trump’s plans to subsidize the coal and nuclear power industries—to prop them up as a campaign promise. The agency is mainly composed of Trump’s own appointees. So sad.
But, what the agency noted is that, stripped of subsidies, the cost of producing electricity by coal and nuclear reactors is greater than the current costs associated with wind and solar power. Wind power makes up more than 25% of the electricity generated in several Midwestern states. There is tremendous growth in wind and solar installations, with good reason—free market economics.
Rather than propping up old unhealthy technologies, the administration should be working with utilities to streamline connections of wind and solar power to the grid. Relaxing efforts to curb net metering would be a good first step. Promoting community solar projects would be another. Electric utilities can evolve from energy generation to energy distribution networks. This is not the time to subsidize their old way of doing business.
Even if you don’t accept the data on climate change, renewable allow us to avoid the premature deaths of those who mine coal and of all who breathe the effluent from coal-fired power plants. Coal miners can leave the darkened shafts and the denuded hillslopes of West Virginia in favor of high-paying cleaner jobs in renewable energy.
Stanford’s Mark Jacobson calculates that with only a few improvements, the grid can redistribute power across the country, so that the intermittent nature of wind and sunlight is compensated by energy generated in other locations. And with the newly developed lithium batteries, by Tesla and others, the grid may become totally obsolete. We generate power locally and store it in our basement for night-time use.
We may have elected a cave man in 2016, but the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. We thought of something better. It’s time to move along.
Jacobson, M.Z. 2017. Roadmaps to transition countries to 100% clean, renewable energy for all purposes to curtail global warming, air pollution, and energy risk. Earth’s Future doi: 10.1002/2017EF000672
Puko, T. 2018. Trump power plan is rejected. The Wall Street Journal, January 9.