First Energy recently announced that the W.H. Sammis Power Plant in Jefferson County will close in 2022. Of course, this becomes an excuse for yet another Intelligencer editorial promoting coal-fired power plants while at the same time blaming the former Obama administration.
Why will the plant be closing? The editorial tells us:
Closure of both coal-fired and nuclear power plants throughout the nation has been blamed on two factors: First, utilities say low-priced natural gas is a more attractive fuel than coal for generating electricity. Second, “alternatives” such as solar and wind power are cheaper, they say.
Natural gas is cheaper than coal, but the above sentence is the only one in the editorial that mentions it. Arguing the cost of natural gas is obviously a losing one for this editorial and so the rest of the editorial becomes an attack upon alternatives and former president Obama.
In attacking alternatives, the editorial resorts to the predictable:
Solar and wind power indeed are cheaper sources of power in one way. Breezes and sunshine cost nothing.
But when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, you are out of luck.
This simplistic argument against these alternatives has long been discredited. For example, here’s Adnam Amin, defending renewables in the Huffington Post:
This argument is not only incorrect, it misses the point entirely. Reliability is not a function of individual generation technologies, but a function of the electricity system as a whole. It is important to remember that “renewable energy” is not a single energy source, but roughly speaking six: solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro, and ocean. Of these, only wind and solar are “variable;” the rest are capable of being dialed up or down when needed - “dispatchable” in industry parlance.
There are many ways of managing variable electricity technologies within the broader mix. This is hardly surprising given that grid operators have been dealing with variability since the birth of electricity distribution over one hundred years ago, for the simple reason that demand always varies.
Amin is just talking about renewables but we obviously have natural gas in the mix.
A quick look at Germany, where the emphasis has been away from coal and nuclear power, is also helpful. As the Internet of Business reports:
In April, the country set a national record for renewable energy use: at one point during the holiday weekend at the end of the month, 85 percent of all the electricity used was produced from renewable sources. Meanwhile, more than one million homes in the country are equipped with solar panels.
And Germany is also moving quickly on solar batteries (for use when the sun goes down):
This week, Germany hit another green energy milestone, announcing that 100,000 homes now have their own battery storage systems connected to the national grid.
These systems allow homeowners to store the solar energy they’ve generated themselves and use the power even after the sun has gone down. Electricity consumption tends to be lower during the day and rise in the evenings. Storage solutions allow homeowners to offset that imbalance and even sell unused energy back to the grid.
Most importantly, local editorials never mention the hidden costs associated with the use of coal -- please see the previous post for the human cost that this editorial ignores.