Cooperative Update, October 2022
Protecting Electric Reliability
Thomas W. Howard, CEO/General Manager
This summer, electric cooperative leaders who receive power from Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI) met for an annual meeting of members. The meeting covered key issues affecting the rural electric cooperative industry.
AECI is a generation cooperative providing power to 51 distribution cooperatives, including Callaway Electric Cooperative, that collectively serve 2.1 million members throughout rural Missouri, southeast Iowa and northeast Oklahoma.
Protecting electric reliability
Top of mind at this year’s meeting was the importance of protecting electric reliability. Remembering lessons learned during Winter Storm Uri in 2021, AECI works hard to meet a balanced, diverse generation strategy that will work well in all weather conditions.
Efforts of policymakers in Washington, D.C. to decarbonize America’s energy supply are alarming for reliability. It is unrealistic to turn our backs on existing fossil fuel power plants and become dependent on energy resources (such as wind and solar) that are intermittent and rely on weather conditions for power supply. Until technology to replace coal, natural gas and nuclear with a reliable source for baseload generation exists, AECI is taking a wait-and-see approach.
A key component of what makes the generation options of coal, natural gas and nuclear so important is their ability to provide dispatchable or “on demand” power. This allows it to be turned on and off. Coal and nuclear are reliable and affordable. Over the years, many steps have been taken to ensure these energy resources incorporate measures for environmental responsibility. Many lawmakers want the U.S. to reach zero carbon emissions by 2035. This might be feasible if technology existed that would offer the same benefits, affordability and reliability. However, nothing similar exists today and there isn’t a plan, engineering or technology to even identify what this scenario would realistically look like.
Intermittent renewable resources
Wind and solar are great resources when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. However, with no utility sized storage options in existence today for wind or solar power, they become a huge liability if these energy sources are not available when they are needed. Because wind and solar energy are reliant on weather, they are intermittent and incapable of being available on demand. When members flip the switch for electricity, we have a responsibility to make sure it’s available. That’s why baseload energy – power that is available 24/7 – is essential. As the country follows the initiatives and federal subsidies to move to intermittent renewable energy, the electric grid becomes more unstable, particularly in extreme weather events.
Coal plants are being retired nationwide due to government pressure along with attractive solar and wind tax credits and federal subsidies, not to mention the desire to produce profits for shareholders. In turn, capacity is limited – particularly during a weather event or lack of availability. Plants are being retired with no reliable source to replace them.
Encouraging technology, transmission and time
As available energy capacity becomes an issue, the blame is passed around with a lot of finger-pointing. With a nationwide push to prematurely shift generation portfolios to intermittent resources, having enough energy capacity to meet demand is a real issue in the U.S. Callaway Electric is proud to be a part of AECI, which is taking a thoughtful and balanced stand to protect smart, reliable baseload generation options for electric cooperative members.
AECI, is not alone in this effort to protect electric reliability. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is also very in tune and involved. Both are adopting and encouraging a “3 T” approach of technology, transmission and time. Together, electric cooperatives want to see a technology that can reliably replace fossil-fueled power plants before a decision is made to retire them. NRECA and AECI are also taking a stand for transmission systems designed to serve load, not just receive and move large quantities of intermittent generation resources like wind and solar. Time is needed to study and discover solutions that make sense versus setting arbitrary dates tied to nothing specific. These three important factors are being neglected in the rush to replace all fossil-fueled generation.
While AECI and NRECA take a reasonable, proactive stance to balanced energy with reliable, affordable capacity to meet member needs, we hope other electric utilities will follow suit. Together, we can be smarter with energy and avoid stressing the grid. Because if we don’t address these issues, it can lead to a snowball effect of blackouts and other catastrophes, while also risking the affordable, reliable energy we know today.