Not-for-profit electric cooperatives work every day to provide affordable, reliable electricity to the more than 42 million Americans they serve. Electric co-ops steadfastly focus on ways to provide reliable and affordable energy.
Our nation needs a sensible energy policy that is based on those two priorities — reliability and affordability. Simple supply and demand dictates the cost of most goods and services. Unfortunately regulations are also a huge factor. Coal has been our nation’s lowest cost, and most abundant energy source. But mostly due to regulations, the Energy Information Agency estimates coal plant operators will shut down 60 gigawatts of coal capacity by 2020, with 90 percent of that occurring by 2016.
Coal provides base load, 24/7 power supply that utilities and consumers can depend upon. It is the backbone of our electric grid’s supply. A drastic reduction in the supply of coal-based electricity will logically mean higher prices.
Natural gas, wind and solar energy are seen by some as the answer for filling the hole left by closed coal plants. And to lower our energy risk we need a diversified energy supply — a balanced energy portfolio both for co-ops and our nation. But renewables, even with recent strong growth in wind and solar, will only supply 4.1 percent of our energy in 2015. Natural gas even at record low prices is still more expensive than coal. EIA put the power generation cost of coal at $2.36 per million Btu in 2014. Natural gas generation cost $5.56 per million Btu in 2014 — almost twice the cost of coal generation.
Environmental regulations share part of the blame for rising electricity costs. Electric co-ops have invested billions of dollars in equipment to reduce air pollution already, but greenhouse gases pose a far more difficult challenge to capture, and the new technology needed just isn’t ready for prime time.
The bottom line is that these regulations unfairly and disproportionately affect members of electric cooperatives. They target regions of the U.S. most dependent on coal for electricity. And increasing electricity prices could endanger efforts to attract new businesses and new jobs, let alone retain current employers.
By harnessing America’s ingenuity, we can do better.
This debate should be about working together to develop a sustainable energy future. This debate should be about how the government supports utilities in a collective effort to develop technologies that can reduce greenhouse gases at a justifiable and reasonable pace.
That’s why electric cooperatives are pushing an XPRIZE initiative (http://www.xprize.org/prize/tri-state-carbon-xprize) to find technologies that actually can turn greenhouse gases into a useful resource with market value.
Creating a sustainable energy future requires us to make ambitious changes. To help our communities thrive, we need Washington’s leaders to recognize the potential harm of these regulations and find a common sense path to a better energy future.
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