ARE ROLLING BLACKOUTS IN WASHINGTON’S FUTURE?

We need smart public policy to ensure our electricity remains in tact.

It’s the same old scenario. Government proposes policies that look fine on paper, industry pushes back to make the policy more logical, battles ensue and the public is left footing the bill.

When will we learn?

Washington state’s race to clean energy is nothing new.

Governor Inslee is on a mission to make our world a cleaner place to live. No one can deny that and at the heart of it, it’s a great mission. How we get there, however, is a messy and controversial discussion. The governor and democratic lawmakers are well on their way to eliminating carbon-emitting resources. A noble goal–but what is the overall cost?

It is a question of cost that goes beyond dollars.

According to the governor and a select number of his lawmakers, solar and wind will save us all. It can’t be denied that those two resources can be valuable pieces to the energy production puzzle, but as the energy industry has tried in vain to convey, that is all they are–puzzle pieces. Solar and wind will never be able to be primary energy providers.

In a perfect world, lawmakers, state agencies that make the policies and industry will learn from the failed system that is known as California’s energy policy. Just like in California, where rolling blackouts have happened recently for the first time in nearly two decades, Washington’s energy industry experts have begged and pleaded for lawmakers to understand that solar and wind production cannot be the primary source of energy production to replace “on demand” power sources.

Lawmakers in California were cautioned time and time again that solar and wind energy could not be relied upon during the hours when energy use was at its highest. Industry experts in the state warned that the policies California policymakers were pushing, would create a perfect storm; they were right, and it reared its ugly head on Aug. 14, 2020. The state experienced extremely hot temperatures just as Californians were coming home from work. This is also when the sun was setting, causing solar power to become obsolete. The wind also wasn’t blowing, meaning no wind energy was being produced.

The results were dire. Rolling blackouts occurred across a scorching California, leaving ratepayers in the dark, without air conditioning and looking for someone to hold responsible. The blame landed solely on utilities–the very entities that had been warning lawmakers of this very issue. The governor claimed the state failed to predict and plan for these power shortages. While that is true, he refused to admit to Californians that he and his government had numerous warnings and ample time to correct the issue, yet had ignored them.

Now let’s take a look back home in Washington. Lawmakers continue to push for clean energy resources, primarily solar and wind. Again, the utility industry is not opposed to using these resources in our energy portfolio and agrees that carbon-emitting resources are on their way out. However, resources like wind and solar are what we call intermittent resources. This means they only produce when the conditions are just right. When the sun doesn’t shine, solar produces zero energy. When the wind doesn’t blow, or if it blows too hard, wind power also yields no power production.

Just like California, some of our lawmakers continue to turn blind eyes and deaf ears on the warnings being given to them by industry professionals. California’s governor, along with his lawmakers failed the people of California. If they aren’t careful, Governor Inslee and his legislators will fail us as well.

The good news is Washington state has an energy resource that most states do not have–hydropower. This renewable energy-producing giant provides nearly 60 percent of the Northwest’s electricity and 90 percent of its renewable energy. With no emissions, the dams in the Columbia Basin preserve our fresh, clean air, which is what the governor claims he wants.

According to a Harvard study on Realizing the Value of Bonneville Power Administration’s Flexible Hydroelectric Assets, low-cost hydropower is the cornerstone of the Pacific Northwest electricity supply. Hydroelectric projects with installed capacity of over 33,000 MW provide about two-thirds of the region’s energy and nearly one half of the region’s generating capability.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council conducted a resource adequacy study and found that over the next decade, a significant amount of base load generation will retire. Between now and 2028, announced coal plant retirements add up to as much as 4,800 megawatts of generating capacity – nearly enough to serve five cities the size of Seattle. We must have reliable energy producing resources that don’t require specific conditions to produce.

The Harvard study concluded that hydropower’s key role will only become more important as states strive to meet renewable portfolio standards. California, a good case study in renewable integration, shows the increasing importance of flexible resources in meeting the challenges of integrating large amounts of renewable resources.

The bottom line is that hydro power is the reason we have clean power, some of the cheapest electrical rates in the nation and our power supply is constant and reliable.

If the governor is successful in making the state rely on solar and wind as the primary source of power, it is not a matter of if blackouts will happen, but when! It’s time we learn from the mistakes made in California and correct our government’s actions for a better and brighter Washington future.

Article Courtesy of Inland Power and Light