May 14, 2015

The EPA’s Failing Grade as the Nation’s Self-Appointed Energy Regulator

Heath Knakmuhs

The Congressional mandate to understand and safeguard the reliability of our electric grid has traditionally resided with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the individual states that regulate the generation of electricity within their borders.  Pursuant to its proposed Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to usurp the oversight of our nation’s critical electricity network without any authority to do so or a rudimentary understanding of how electric grid reliability is achieved or maintained. 

This emboldened EPA has previously refused to allow FERC to look at documents relating to its Clean Power Plan, and continuously thumbs its nose at the numerous red flags being raised by energy regulators and other electric reliability experts about that plan.  While the EPA’s plan views all electricity resources as fungible, real world experience unequivocally demonstrates that controllable coal, nuclear, and natural gas generation facilities support electric grid operations in a way that cannot be achieved by intermittent, weather-dependent resources such as solar and wind.  Not only does the EPA not understand the electric grid; it does not give any credence to those that do. 

An article in Forbes this week provides additional evidence why every user of electricity in the United States should be gravely concerned about the EPA’s self-designation as our nation’s energy regulator.  This unauthorized power grab strongly demonstrates why our founding fathers created the three branches of government.  While the EPA has skipped straight past the Legislative branch of government by bypassing its limited statutory mandate to seize control over the nation’s production, distribution, and use of electricity, we can only hope that the judicial branch is not too late to prevent the significant and irreversible reliability impacts that have been predicted – but thus far ignored – by the EPA.   

Some highlights from the article:

“EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would […] arrogate upon EPA control over how every American gets and uses electricity service—whether that customer is a homeowner in De Moines, a factory in Ohio, or someone running their air conditioner in California.”

“But as any first year electrical engineering student knows, you can’t simply substitute wind or solar power for coal power on a megawatt-for-megawatt basis if you want to keep the lights on when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. The electric grid simply does not work that way.”

“That a general consensus has emerged that a safety value is needed all but concedes that the EPA’s proposal will cause reliability problems.  […]  Having the EPA administer an after-the-fact reliability safety value is no different than acknowledging that there is going to be a major car wreck but saying that as long as there is a good auto-body shop down the road, all will be fine.”