by conor bernstein

When President Biden boasted about closing coal plants all across the country, he meant it.

Even as electricity and natural gas bills soar — up a startling 16% and 33.1% respectively over the past year — and the reliability of the nation’s power supply grows ever more tenuous, the Biden administration is actively working to accelerate coal plant retirements through a new regulatory onslaught from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was a plan put in place in the opening days of the administration and, despite the global energy crisis, soaring energy bills and biting inflation, the EPA — apparently at the President’s firm direction — isn’t blinking.

“Comments like these are the reason the American people are losing trust in President Biden and instead believe he does not understand the need to have an all-in energy policy that would keep our nation totally energy independent and secure,” West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said. The Senator is correct; the Biden administration does not seem to have a grip on the nation’s energy reality.

In 2018, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) warned of the threat posed by the rapid loss of baseload sources of power, namely coal capacity. S&P Global Market Intelligence characterized the report by writing, NERC “warns that an accelerated retirement of coal-fired and nuclear power plants over the next several years could lead to power outages, temporary shortfalls in surplus generation, and  transmission problems in several regions.” Every single one of those warnings has come to fruition.

Now NERC is warning that capacity retirements and the rapid remaking of the grid will pose tremendous challenges to reliability over the next decade. John Moura, director of reliability assessment and performance analysis at NERC, said, “there’s clear, objective, conclusive data indicating that the pace of our great transformation is a bit out of sync with the underlying realities and the physics of the system.” He added that the energy disruptions seen in California and Texas “should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country.” Apparently, the Biden administration hasn’t gotten it.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member James Danly has also expressed deep concern about grid reliability and the danger posed by casting aside dispatchable generation for intermittent power. Danly told Politico: “My grave, grave fear here is that what’s going to have to happen to focus people’s attention on the solutions that are necessary to ensure resource adequacy and ensure reliability is going to be some catastrophic event that demands our attention be given to these problems.”

And it’s not just the regulators. Utilities aren’t pulling any punches. David Tudor, chief executive of Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., which supplies power to 51 rural distribution cooperatives serving 2 million people in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma, said that closing coal plants is “dumb”. It’s not that we’re not willing. We’re just saying it’s dumb, and we don’t do dumb things. I don’t see any reason to get rid of something that works if we don’t have something to replace it.”

The grid is in crisis and the role the existing coal fleet can and should play in getting us to the other side is a gravely important one. The Biden administration is racing down the wrong path on American energy policy when we need sound leadership more than ever.

Conor Bernstein is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.