Hugh McDiarmid Jr. lives in suburban Detroit, Michigan. He is communications director with an environmental nonprofit. The opinions expressed here are his and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer, nor anyone else in the environmental field for that matter.
Finally, if you don't understand the term "Mitten State" you're not from Michigan. But that's OK. We'll see you when you run out of fresh water.
No links in this post. Just some plain English translations of Nolan Finley's recent columnspreading unfounded terror among the citizenry.......
EPA raises risk of blackouts As an opinion columnist, I do not need a source or any data or attribution for this statement, unlike the poor schlubs in the newsroom who are required to substantiate statements they make in their stories. Can you imagine?!
An especially stormy summer gives us a taste of what life would be like if the electric umbilical cord attached to the side of our homes were to run dry.
Prepare to panic
Silent air conditioners and refrigerators full of spoiling food is the shared experience in countless neighborhoods hit by weather related power outages.
Saved by the backup
A generous generating reserve in the state kept the power interruptions fewer than they might have been. Despite an unrelenting heat wave, no blackouts occurred because of shortages in electricity supplies, says Steve Kurmas, president and chief operating officer of Detroit Edison, a DTE Energy subsidiary. The utilities did their jobs. I’m about to use their talking points to string together this column.
DTE has a production capacity that exceeds normal demand by 26 percent, and is more than twice the standard 12 percent reserve, Kurmas says. That's largely because the recession wiped out so many customers in this region. So when demand peaks, DTE can ramp up production to cover the load, even on hottest days. Customers are paying to maintain capacity they don’t need, but on a handful of days a year, the utility is able to fire up the oldest, least efficient, most expensive and dirtiest coal plants to meet demand. It may well be less expensive to buy that energy from the electric grid, but exploring that would collapse the premise of the column.
EPA energy killers You thought I was going to use "job killers" again, didn't you!
That's the situation today. Four years from now, who knows?
Between now and then, DTE will have to shutter 10 coal-burning units, reducing capacity by 20 percent to meet new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal plants. Updating the plants to comply with the new EPA standards in the three-year period allowed would be massively expensive. So DTE will take them off line. Anybody with brainwave activity would question my contention that the utility will shut down 10 coal plants in 36 months, but I'm counting on no one applying critical thinking here.
That will reduce reserves to 6 percent and leave the system vulnerable to blackouts on scorching hot days like the ones we've had this month. Now you may panic. I remain calm because I know full well the huge lobbying power of the coal industry will easily tie the whole thing up in court for a decade.
Kurmas says DTE has no intention of allowing reserve capacity to drop so low. The utility also is not panicking because they know this too. The company is taking time to assess the regulations, and to get some clarifications from the EPA. Michiganders are going to be funding a new team of utility company lobbyists and lawyers to castrate this idea. If there's a change in the White House next year, it will likely mean a new regulatory ballgame. We all know a new administration will mean more delays, if not a complete about face. Utility lobbyists can outlast any president.
But the plan now is to replace the coal burners with plants that operate on natural gas. That's cleaner power, but costlier. I am pointedly ignoring mountains of credible evidence that energy efficiency programs have vast potential to meet energy needs at a fraction of the cost of gas, nuclear, coal, windmills, solar, etc. Instead, I will pretend natural gas plants are our only option. I'm also not going to mention the conclusions of our state's Public Service Commission, which foresees no need for a new coal plant for more than a decade.
Watch your wallets
Kurmas says to expect electricity bills to soar by 25 to 35 percent. Panic, I tell you! I need not provide any source for this claim, because you can trust the man from the utility company. For residential customers, that'll leave less money to spend on other goods and services, further closing the damper on the economy.
For power-intensive businesses, such as manufacturers, it will mean higher operating costs that will have to be offset either by raising prices or trimming workers. Manufacturers can lower their costs with energy efficiency upgrades, but you'll have to read that elsewhere. We're against that because dope-smoking hippie environmentalists are for it.
The consequences of the coal mandate will be huge. And yet such a momentous change was pushed through by regulatory fiat, without a vote by our elected representatives.
President Barack Obama has proven wholly inept at putting Americans back to work. But as an economy killer, he is without equal. I stray from the topic here to take a generalized, gratuitous shot at the President, who by most accounts is moderately liberal but by the Detroit News’s standards is a raving, communist devil.
The EPA's move to turn the occasional summertime power outage into a daily threat is just the latest example.
Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News. Read more of his recent columns and read his blog at detnews.com/finley. Also watch him at 7:30 p.m. Fridays on “Am I Right?” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.