The Biden administration’s approach to energy policy ignores the importance of coal and baseload electricity demands.
President Joe Biden revealed as much in a speech last year, announcing that the U.S. will "be shutting these plants down all across America and having wind and solar." Further, Biden's Climate Envoy John Kerry stated at the UN climate conference COP28 that, "we will be working to accelerate unabated coal phase-out across the world."
The Biden administration is determined to eliminate coal-fired power plants in the name of "environmental justice." This is shortsighted.
Biden is now following through on his plans by wielding the vast power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Biden's EPA gave the U.S. coal industry an ultimatum: spend billions or die. In May, the EPA unexpectedly proposed regulations that would force coal-fired power plants to install carbon capture systems (CCS) or replace coal with natural gas significantly by 2040.
Emissions rise from the Kentucky Utilities Co. Ghent generating station in Ghent, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Lawmakers in mining states from Wyoming to West Virginia are determined to fight back with a series of roadblocks to President Joe Biden's plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Currently, only two commercial coal plants in the U.S. have CCS capabilities, and universally installing CCS infrastructure will cost coal plants billions. Once installed, these plants will become upwards of 50% more expensive to run. As a result, many coal plants will close prematurely.
The EPA projects that their regulations will close enough coal plants to reduce coal-powered energy by 18 gigawatts annually. The US is on track to close half its coal capacity by 2026. This loss of baseload generation poses serious threats to the American economy.
Biden is advancing a goal of transitioning to renewables, like wind and solar, and away from traditional baseload sources before we have the ability to maintain adequate generation for the economy. Renewables alone are not yet able to meet America's growing demand for energy.
If America dispenses with fossil fuels like coal before developing the capacity to replace this baseload generation, then the American people should expect brownouts and blackouts, higher electricity bills, and an economy unable to compete with our adversaries.
Coal is far more reliable than renewables like wind and solar for baseload generation because it can sustain production under adverse conditions, like days when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Nevertheless, Biden continues to push for renewables without recognizing the need to preserve existing baseload capacity, even as energy experts sound the alarm about grid reliability.
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Case in point: The North American Electric Reliability Corp. recently told Congress that most of the U.S. is now at risk of blackouts or brownouts during heat waves. Biden is leading us into disaster.
Our existing coal infrastructure allows the U.S. to provide cheap electricity to millions of Americans. As demand increases, the U.S. must produce abundant energy from various resources to guarantee grid reliability and to keep rates affordable. Yet, energy rates are already rising, and Biden's EPA will only place a greater financial burden on American households.
An aerial picture taken on September 29, 2022, shows trucks driving past a silt pond at a coal mine operated by Blackhawk Mining and Pine Branch Mining in Lost Creek, Kentucky. (Photo by DIANE DESOBEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
In addition, the EPA's regulations will only give an edge to our adversaries as they continue growing their coal-burning capacities. China is building coal-fired power plants, and fast. China approved an astounding 106 gigawatts of new coal capacity in 2022, driven in part by growing concerns about grid reliability.
The U.S. cannot afford to abandon coal when we need it most, especially as we strive to compete with China economically. Until science and technology provide a reliable alternative to fossil-based baseload generation, we will continue to need fossil fuels.
The EPA plans to enforce its new regulations sometime this year. Let's hope Biden's EPA wakes up to reality before that happens.
Roger Hanshaw, R-WV-62, serves as the speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.