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Prepare for a Major Power Outage This Winter

With another polar vortex looming, the public should prepare for potential blackouts caused by the Obama administration’s plans to shut down coal-fired power plants.

You see, the record-breaking lows of last winter put a never-before-seen strain on the energy grid.

In fact, the grid nearly imploded last January, but thanks to back-up power supplied by less-frequently used coal-burning plants, it survived.

Now, though, Obama has scheduled these plants to be shut down before the start of winter.

January 2014: A Close Call

The PJM Interconnection is a regional electric transmission organization that serves a large swath of the United States from New Jersey to Illinois.

On January 7, 2014, it saw the largest-ever peak winter load of nearly 142,000 megawatts. In the rest of that month alone, 8 of the top 10 peak winter loads for PJM occurred.

PJM survived thanks to old, coal-fired power plants that are scheduled to be shut down by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) soon.

“Eighty-nine percent of the coal electricity capacity that is due to go offline was utilized as that backup to meet the demand this winter,” said Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski at a Senate hearing in April.

Forecast: Clean and Bitterly Cold

Unfortunately, for most of us in the eastern United States, many of the best meteorologists now say we should prepare for “Polar Vortex, the Sequel” this winter. Like last winter, intense cold and lots of snow are expected.

About 12,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity are scheduled to be retired in January 2015 to fulfill regulations established five years ago.

Most of those coal-fired power plants are owned by American Electric Power (AEP), the country’s biggest owner of coal-burning power plants. AEP is being forced to close down almost a quarter of its coal-fired generating plants over the next 10 months.

This will reduce the total capacity available for some of the country’s most densely populated regions just when the weather may once again push the demand for power to unprecedented levels.

AEP’s Chief Executive Officer, Nicholas Akins, told Congress last April, “This country did not just dodge a bullet [this winter] – we dodged a cannonball.”

Even the Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Philip Moeller, believes the electric grid in parts of the country is “now already at the limit.”

This is not good news with regulations removing some of that already-strained generation capacity.

Will Common Sense Prevail?

AEP believes the EPA could be willing to extend the shutdown deadline date. But, the company also says that environmental groups will likely bring lawsuits under the Clean Air Act, forcing closures regardless.

Unless environmental groups give coal-powered plants a reprieve, a blackout is almost guaranteed in the event of another polar vortex winter.

Hopefully, the vortex stays out of town this winter. But if it doesn’t, look at the bright side: That frigid air you’ll be breathing is a little bit cleaner.

And “the chase” continues,

Tim Maverick

Tim Maverick

, Senior Correspondent

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