Industry experts are warning that parts of Texas, the Midwest, and the South could face increased electricity blackouts as temperatures swelter over the summer.
Speaking to Politico, John Bear, CEO of Midcontinent Independent System Operator — which services the Midwest corridor from Minnesota to the Texas Panhandle — said of the blackouts, “Unfortunately we’re moving in that direction quite quickly.” The North American Electric Reliability Corporation lists the Midwest as being at the highest risk.
The warning comes as the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission, the independent body that oversees the U.S. electricity grid, estimates that power prices in the region may soar by 233 percent at the peak of summer — boosted by high demand as temperatures rise, and high gas prices owing to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that average summer temperatures across the contiguous U.S. will be between 50 and 80 percent higher than normal.
Bear, however, cited the Biden Administration’s effort to transition America’s six energy grids to a decarbonized system as part of the problem. During a press briefing at the U.S. Energy Association in May, he noted that part of its efforts included the phasing out of fossil fuel units before new batteries are available. The White House has previously announced President Joe Biden’s long-term strategy to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050.
Under these efforts, each of North America’s six electricity grids will see power capacity declines over the next few months. The Texas grid, which faced significant outages over the winter storm Uri in February of 2021 that killed 246 people, is set to lose 2.9 gigawatts of gas, coal, and nuclear capacity this year. The grid run by Bear, meanwhile, will lose 3.2 gigawatts of power capacity owing to retiring coal plants that are not being replaced.
Republican commissioners on the FERC, joined by some industry groups, have been arguing for a slower transition to ensure energy shortfalls are avoided. “We’re headed for a reliability crisis. We’re just not ready yet,” said Mark Christie, one of the FERC’s Republican members and a Trump-appointee during the commission’s monthly meeting in May. Democrats on the commission, meanwhile, have sought to paint power transmission issues as the reason for periodic blackouts, and not the energy transition.
The efforts are being led by Richard Glick, a Trump-appointed but Democratic commissioner who was designated Chair by President Joe Biden last year. Glick’s term expires at the end of June, and Senate Republicans have signaled are unlikely to support his renomination, as is Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who has accused him of “swinging the pendulum far to the Left” on energy issues.
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy, in an agency blog post on May 23, released a series of steps residents may take to remain safe and cool during a hot-weather power blackout, a move criticized by Republican candidates running for Congress in the upcoming midterm elections.