How the Grinch Stole the Power Grid

By Ryan Aument

As a holiday cold snap gripped Pennsylvania in December, energy officials warned of rolling blackouts and called on families to turn down their thermostats and turn off the decorations. Truly, this was a Christmas gift with batteries not included.

How did the power grid become so feeble that your Christmas tree threatened to bring it down?

Much of the blame rests on the movement to halt the use of carbon fuels altogether, replacing them with sources that can’t come close to meeting demand.

During the height of the cold spell on Christmas eve, our grid operator was urging consumers to turn down their thermostats and stop using appliances. Coal, natural gas, nuclear and oil combined to meet 90 percent of our energy demands. Every one of these sources has declared enemies whose strategy would effectively save the planet by sacrificing its civilization.

You can’t turn on the lights by virtue-signaling and you can’t cook a Christmas turkey over a fire of platitudes. We need solutions that ensure a steady supply of power as the nation transitions to new sources. A transition with blackouts and cold homes isn’t a transition. It’s a calamity.

Pennsylvania has been blessed with a uniquely diverse mix of energy sources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind, and more. They all contribute to the economy and sustain a way of life we have rightly come to expect.

When we flick a light switch, we expect light, not a lecture. Instead, Pennsylvanians saw their power bills spike by almost 40 percent in some areas of the state as power companies faced pressure to shut down carbon-based energy plants. Indeed, Gov. Shapiro has nominated a Secretary of Environment Protection from the ranks of a power supplier that has announced plans to rid homes of natural gas. This comes at a time when Pennsylvania enjoys energy independence thanks to the abundance of clean-burning natural gas.

We need to think things through when it comes to Pennsylvania’s energy future.

But if politicians tell you they’re surprised, or that there was nothing we could have done to mitigate the increase in electric rates and the decrease in grid reliability, I’d argue they are being disingenuous at best.

Three years ago, I formed the nation’s first bipartisan, bicameral state legislative caucus focused on the economic and environmental value of a diverse energy portfolio. We’re talking about nuclear, gas, renewables, and coal. Our final report showed that this effort to preserve energy diversity in Pennsylvania would prevent consumers from higher energy costs and spare us darkened holidays.

I said then that making long-term energy decisions based exclusively on political objectives and short-term marginal costs would be foolish. Poor public policies with unintended consequences are almost always the result of short-sighted decisions. Difficult economic choices demand immediate decision, not endless delay.

We had the opportunity three years ago to do the right thing for Pennsylvania ratepayers, but the legislation aimed at taking the steps necessary to protect our diverse energy portfolio and prevent the premature retirement of our nuclear power plants, stalled. This ultimately resulted in Three Mile Island permanently closing in September 2019.

The premature closure of any power plant has the potential to trigger severe impacts on grid reliability and electricity rates. When you have less of anything, the price goes up.

There is no question that if we still had access to TMI’s power generation and opted to invest in natural gas infrastructure, wholesale energy prices would not be rising as high. Pennsylvania’s Consumer Advocate says the hikes are directly related to the ongoing volatility in the wholesale energy markets – a market that no longer can tap into the 24-hour around-the-clock, zero-emissions reliability of TMI.

Pennsylvania consumers needed us to act three years ago, and we failed them. Now, they are stuck with the price tag.

We should heed the lessons from this past year and work for bipartisan solutions that will boost energy independence and increase grid reliability and resiliency.

Pennsylvanians deserve to pay a reasonable price for their electricity, and they expect the lights and heat to come on when they need them. Let’s pass policies in Harrisburg to do that.

Back to Top