While the main focus on the shutting down of the Muskingum Power Plant near Beverly, is one of the economic disturbances where a good sized amount of people will be without a place to work, I find it more prudent to ask the question to all of you: Where do you think the power will be coming from in the future? While the shale gas industry will allow for a viable choice of fuel for generating electricity, the facts tell us that it will be a short lived power source, only about 15 years worth of fuel with the current estimates of how many trillions of cubic feet of gas there exists below us. Coal on the other hand is still plentiful and new technologies allow for the burning of it to create near zero emissions. While I personally support alternative fuel, especially from solar, the fact is, it is not cheap and the infrastructure does not exist nor is it being built. My concern is a big one and it should concern you too. Here's why.
In 2009 when Obama came into office, he set goals forward to shut down 15% of America's coal fired power plants by 2015. Earlier this year he called for another 15% to be shut down by 2020. The EPA has obligingly set oppressing and unachievable goals for the power generating industry to comply with. While the EPA does some good, it is overall posing the greatest detriment to power generation in America. America is a large country and coal has largely been the force that keeps the lights on. If the government has its way, coal will be non-existent. Yet government also does not give any plans to replace that energy production with some other type of fuel or source that can match or exceed the mega-wattage that coal already produces for all Americans. And the source has to be long term, not fly by night.
This is where so many people have it wrong. The economic impact is a slight blip on the radar compared to the concern towards where the power will come from presently and in the future. Like with the Willow Island Power Station near St. Mary's, W.Va., which was slated to close last September, the West Virginia Public Utilities Commission compelled the First Energy plant to not shut down production yet, along with two others owned by the company, due to concerns over why the plants must be shut down, when they can be updated. While most power companies respond to that question with the answer that it just simply costs too much to comply with the EPA, seemingly the question is overlooked at why the EPA (and the federal government) is so determined to strangle our power generation and make it so expensive for companies to comply with the regulations. So, why?
Despite Obama's mandates and the EPA's regulations, PUC's and the power companies are pandering to the goals of government. They have private interests in their profits, and as Beverly Mayor Rex Kenyon explains, "The utility company needs to make a profit to reinvest in infrastructure, maintenance, salaries and new plants and equipment as demand increases." As they comply (or not) with the EPA's regulations, it is not viable for them to continue operations in many of their plants, let alone build new compliant plants, no matter whether the demand for energy is there. It seems that government's goals of reducing coal fired power plants by 15% twice over by 2020 seem more achievable when power companies are forced to do so because they cannot meet EPA regulations. And it goes that the PUC's of state governments pander to this type of oppression because they claim that the companies need to keep their energy costs to the public low. Well, it goes without saying that, if the government regulation were not systematically shutting down clean coal generation in America, we would still have more than enough electricity and prices would be low. It's all connected.
I make the point that government is acting in ill will toward larger goals with an example in Austin, Texas, which is ranked as the third fastest growing metropolitan area in America. Several years ago, two new power plants were being built in Austin to meet the demand of consumption. One was halted during construction, and the other, completed and waiting to go online, was forced to be condemned, by the Texas PUC. Why? Because according to the blueprints of both power plants that were built, they did not meet the most recent regulations passed by the federal EPA - even though by the standards that they were designed toward in the recent years had exceeded and passed the test when they first broke ground - meaning the new plants were compliant then, but not now. Yet the federal government could go and change the rules on everyone and allow money and time to be wasted, and demands for energy to go unmet. So now, as ghosts in the Austin burbs, stand shells of two power plants that are brand new, but will never go online because it is simply too expensive to comply.
So, how will demand be met? Where is our power going to come from? And how can we make the EPA stand down on an already clean burning fuel? I don't trust the shale gas industry to provide it. I don't trust just hydro, wind and solar to do so either. I definitely don't trust nuclear on principle. Not that there is not potential for the former, they cannot presently meet any fraction of demand. I find it hard to fathom that somehow less equals more. I do not live in a fictional world where I pretend to not understand how and where my electric comes from, and it comes from coal, but maybe not forever.
On one last note I have a grave warning to all. Once the systematic control of energy production and consumption (especially through the implementation of so-called "Smart Grids") is fully realized, this great country of ours will experience massive rolling blackouts as common occurrence. The current system is already peaked at production and is stressed to the breaking point. As fewer plants try and create more out of less, it will only get worse. Not only will prices skyrocket, many may be left in the dark. We are already experiencing the first spasms of our grid today. On personal notice, I have seen more regular, several minute long outages frequently in the past two years than I ever remember in recent history. Not only is the demand high, but so is the stress on the thinning system and the overburdened infrastructure of America. Local plant closures are not just local problems that have effect on local economies. They are grave warnings of the future begging the question; how can America keep the power on?
Stop and think.
Sam Ludtman lives in Reno.