Your Electric Supply and a Call to Action
by Bob Hance on Monday, June 6, 2022
The electric grid is a complicated and connected system with many players. MEC does our part by connecting the wires from the high-voltage transmission lines to your home, but there are others you don’t generally hear about. One such player is a grid operator, which is an independent, third-party entity that manages the nation’s electric grid. These operators ensure the system works efficiently and reliably, and they predict and control the supply of electricity. Last April, one of our regional operators, MISO, announced the results of their annual generation audit that determines if there is sufficient supply to meet demand. The results for this summer are concerning. Nine northern states, including Michigan, are 1,200 megawatts short of the supply needed to keep the lights on when demand is highest. That equals 876,000 households.
What does this mean? If temperatures soar this summer, MISO could require blackouts to control electric load. If they do, we will have to comply.
What is driving the shortfall? Simply put, the power grid is changing. Primarily, coal and nuclear are retiring and being replaced mainly by weather-dependent renewable energy. The challenge placed on the grid is that for every megawatt of coal and nuclear that is retired, at least 2 megawatts (often more) of solar and 10 megawatts of wind are needed to replace that supply. This is because renewables need the right sun and wind to generate electricity whereas coal and nuclear plants can run more consistently. Therefore, more renewables are needed to make up for the times they can’t run. Additionally, it is impossible to permit a new coal plant, new nuclear is extremely cost prohibitive, and natural gas is becoming more challenging to permit. Our options are limited.
There is the potential for this problem to get worse. While we are already facing power supply shortages, nearly 10% of Michigan’s generating fleet of coal and nuclear plants are slated for early retirement in the next three years. We can’t let power plant closures get ahead of the new generation that must be built to replace them.
We need your help. MEC has partnered with other electric co-ops from around the state and country to utilize Voices for Cooperative Power (VCP), a network of co-op members working together to make our voices heard by policymakers. I encourage you to sign up and participate. Click here to learn more about the VCP.
I want every co-op member to know that this isn’t a statement on renewable energy versus coal and nuclear power plants. You only have to see our 60% carbon-free portfolio to realize that we’ve been trending toward cleaner resources for the past 20 years. Our concern is about reliability and the risk that continues to grow for the lights to go out.
The purpose of this post isn’t to scare you; it’s to prepare you and help you understand what we’re dealing with.
We will also continue our hard work of monitoring, maintaining, and upgrading our equipment as needed to ensure that MEC’s infrastructure can handle our demand. And we will do our part to make sure that our elected officials understand the impact of premature plant closures.