Jan 4, 2018

It's electricity, not energy, that matters during blizzard

A Christmas Day snowstorm creates whiteout conditions in Boston. Photo: Dina Rudick / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With a winter storm barreling down the East Coast, representatives from almost every type of energy source are seizing the opportunity to tout how superior their fuel is to America's electricity supply.

The bottom line: It's a classic, ugly political move: Never let a crisis go to waste. Millions of Americans hunkering down to weather a winter storm are worried about if their electricity goes out, not what particular energy is actually fueling their electricity. It's a simple point lost amid the lobbying and messaging battles that so often dominate Washington.

Driving the news: This winter storm is adding fuel to an escalating fight. Advocacy groups representing different fuel types are battling it out ahead of a Jan. 10 deadline facing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency, to decide what to do with an Energy Department proposal compensating coal and nuclear power plants for their ability to store fuel on site, which most other electricity types can't do. That rule's stated aim is to ensure a resilient electric grid, but the department's own data shows fuel diversity isn't the main problem, it's things like power lines going down during bad weather (including the winter storm hitting the East Coast).

Gritty details:

  • A spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute emailed reporters Tuesday noting high prices of natural gas in the Northeast and that all 99 U.S. nuclear reactors are running, which is "an incredible but unsurprising testament to nuclear's reliability and its contribution to a system resiliency."
  • On Wednesday, the National Mining Association that represent coal companies published a blog post saying this most recent spat of cold weather "was just the exclamation point to an otherwise good year for coal if not for its detractors."
  • A wind group spokesman told Bloomberg the grid can better handle severe weather "thanks to an increasingly diverse electricity supply featuring more wind energy production."

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Situational awareness

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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