By Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) - 03/06/13 12:43 AM EST
National news reports are again sounding the alarm about electric grid reliability in large states like California and Texas. Unfortunately, government intrusion is creating an otherwise preventable crisis that places the power supply of hundreds of thousands of families and businesses in jeopardy.
A higher volume of renewable energy is providing more power, but it can be less reliable during peak demand. Energy experts have stressed the need for a balanced power supply that contains the right mix of traditional and renewable energy. As demand for electricity in Texas grows with its economy and population, regulators and grid planners must address options to add more generation.
The proposed Las Brisas Energy Center would have burned petroleum coke, a byproduct from the nearby oil refineries. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas predicts that Texas will face a power shortfall of up to half a million Texas homes by as early as 2014. This plant would have added 1,320 megawatts of power to the Texas grid, strengthening grid reliability in Texas. Despite the need for more power, investments have stalled.
In the summer of 2011, demand for electricity ran so high that the state’s electricity grid reserve margin fell below 7 percent, a level dangerously close to triggering rolling blackouts. Rolling blackouts threaten economic productivity and the safety and well-being of sick and elderly people. That same winter, frigid temperatures also forced several peak-load plants to go offline, resulting in a power outage that affected more than 1 million homes and businesses.
These reliability issues are dismissed by groups like Environmental Defense Fund and Sierra Club, which led the legal challenge opposing development of the Las Brisas plant and are pushing an extreme regulatory agenda to force more power plants into retirement and prevent new plants from being built, regardless of how clean they are. The Las Brisas plant would have been state of the art, featuring a “polishing scrubber” to limit sulfur dioxide emissions, a mechanism to collect particulate matter and an activated carbon injection system to remove mercury. While costly, these measures would have ensured better air quality while providing needed grid reliability.
Las Brisas was criticized by environmental groups and EPA, which blocked the project’s permitting process. The state agency authorized by federal law to enforce the Clean Air Act granted a permit to Las Brisas. But a federal judge invalidated the permit after reviewing a challenge brought forward by a coalition of environmental groups.
The indefinite postponement of the Las Brisas project puts reliability at risk for Texas families. The project would have created nearly 4,000 local construction jobs, 80 permanent jobs and pumped $3.2 billion into the local economy. It would also have been a stable supply of power for an electric grid facing the impending retirement of its older coal-fired power plants, thanks to EPA’s extreme environmental regulations. We can achieve electric reliability through traditional and non-traditional energy sources. However, thanks to an administration beholden to extreme environmentalists, we face yet another government manufactured crisis.
EPA must take a step back and consider the negative implications of its overzealous regulatory agenda. They must cooperate with state and local regulators and power planners to ensure a stable supply of energy before it’s too late.
Olson is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.