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Counter extreme weather with sound energy policy 

A state plow truck clears snow
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP
A state plow truck clears snow in Vermont on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.

Heating our homes and powering our businesses is central to our modern way of life. That availability is about to be tested as Winter Storm Elliott is bringing blizzard-like conditions that forecasters say could develop into a bomb cyclone, along with below-zero temperatures, all as millions of Americans are traveling for the Holidays. Just how well the country will fare might not have been an issue a few years ago, but all of that has changed. 

Take America’s aging electric grid, for example. According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the not-for-profit organization that manages and evaluates the electric grid, California and parts of the Mid-West and South Central U.S. will be challenged to provide enough electricity available during regular peak periods because power generation is being retired faster than it can be replaced. In California, the NERC says future outages are due to “variable resource mix” and “demand variability,” which means that traditional energy and renewables are not working together because of California’s outdated electrical grid. 

The more significant takeaway is that right here in America, we may not be able to supply necessary electricity under normal circumstances, let alone during extreme weather such as we are currently experiencing this winter. Let’s all agree that’s not acceptable. 

Regardless of location, Americans should all have access to plentiful, affordable, and sustainable energy to support our quality of life. When energy is secure and guaranteed, it keeps us on the go and ensures economic growth and stability. Energy security also protects us from geopolitical instabilities outside North America. One need only look to Europe to see what happens when energy security is discounted as a serious concern. Record high electric and natural gas prices and the intentional closing of industrial facilities because there isn’t enough energy to go around. Some European countries have done better than others, which serves as an excellent learning moment for the U.S. The bad news for Europe is that the worst is yet to come, as 2023 will likely be worse than 2022. Europe’s poor energy policies — after spending $1.24 Trillion through 2019 with another $5.3 Trillion required to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 — will have lasting effects, possibly shuttering energy-intensive industries for good, given the removal of Russian oil and gas.  

If Europe faces closed plants and deindustrialization, the good news for the U.S. is that we can learn from these mistakes and not repeat them here. We can return industries and employment to the U.S. through sound energy policies.  

Our learning moment should be that everyone should be able to agree on a sensible energy policy. Well-being in the U.S. is achieved through an “all of the above” strategy, which promotes economic strength, resilient democracy, and equality. A sensible energy policy promotes energy security, protecting against foreign adversaries, climate concerns, and health risks. Here is how and why we must pursue energy on all fronts. 

Access to reliable and affordable energy is essential for everyone, especially for lower-income families, retirees, and others on fixed incomes. When coupled with availability and reliability, price stability is reassuring and a powerful economic strength. These three components are at the heart of a sustainable and resilient energy policy. 

Agreeing on reasonable outcomes helps direct a national energy policy. Instead of devolving into a political debate on the pros and cons of various energy sources, we need to embrace an energy mix that includes fossil, nuclear, hydro, bio, and renewables. This approach ensures stability while we work toward decarbonization by retiring higher emitting power sources as soon as — but not before — new technology and renewables are deployed.  

At the same time, we must also rebuild our energy infrastructure to ensure we can safely and reliably deliver energy. This requires Congress to agree on substantial permitting reforms initially advanced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that failed to pass due to political infighting. Instead of being held hostage, permitting reform is a serious business and is immediately needed to reduce the time required to design, construct, and deploy infrastructure. Moreover, this new smart infrastructure can support current and future energy mixes. For example, a low-carbon future requires new electric transmission lines to support distributed energy and battery storage facilities. A low-carbon future also requires new pipelines that can be converted from fossil fuels to help reduce and remove carbon emissions. 

Simultaneously we must reinforce our efforts to promote domestic energy security while helping key allies by supporting international cooperation on new energy technologies. As a swing producer, we can also effectively help our allies by exporting energy for a short period, helping to replace shortages brought about by Russia’s war in Europe. 

A sound policy also requires us to ensure access to the fuel sources and raw materials needed to create energy systems and protect the supply chains necessary to create, move, and deliver energy wherever and whenever needed without interference from natural or manmade threats. A robust and effective domestic policy supports U.S. interests and encourages allies while discouraging would-be adversaries by removing opportunities to interfere.  

Brigham McCown is a senior fellow and director of the Initiative on American Energy Security at the Hudson Institute. He previously served under democratic and republican cabinet secretaries as the federal government’s chief safety regulator of pipelines and hazardous materials.

Tags electric grid electrical grid Energy Energy in the United States Europe Joe Manchin permitting reform power supply Winter storm Winter Storm Elliott

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