Today’s ‘must read’ op-ed: Key lessons from the Christmas blackouts

(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

As Policy Watch environmental investigative reporter Lisa Sorg reported yesterday, Tuesday’s meeting of the state Utilities Commission produced a great deal of useful information about the Christmas week blackouts that left hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians shivering in the dark for several hours. It turns out that Duke Energy had many good reasons to think it was prepared and had the situation under control, only to then find itself overrun by a cascade of unforeseen (if, perhaps, not unforeseeable) dominoes — soaring demand, equipment failures, and the unavailability of power from other places that it had anticipated obtaining, just to name three.

One hope fervently that Duke (and other electricity providers) take several lessons to heart from the disaster. As I pointed out in yesterday’s daily radio commentary, the growing global climate emergency and the increased frequency of extreme weather events it is producing make it clearer than ever that now is the time for immediate and sustained attention (and investments) from utility companies, regulators, and elected leaders if we’re to build and maintain a strong and reliable system in the decades ahead.

Happily, a lot of smart people have been thinking about the kinds of changes in this realm that need to take place. For an excellent example, be sure to check out this morning’s featured op-ed on WRAL.com by Carrie Clark of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. As Clark explains, there are some obvious lessons on which we need to act, including speeding our transition away from fossil fuels.

Here’s the excellent conclusion to her essay:

The lessons we should learn from the storm are clear in Duke’s responses to Gov. Cooper and the Utilities Commission:

  1. Climate change is causing more extreme weather, which is unpredictable. We are facing more historic storms, not fewer;
  2. Gas and coal aren’t always dependable in extreme weather, while renewable energy with battery storage is more reliable.

Under Gov. Cooper’s leadership, North Carolina is quickly becoming a clean energy powerhouse, with high-paying jobs and associated economic development, along with the obvious climate benefits. The costs of solar and wind generation and battery storage are going down.

By signing the Inflation Reduction Act into law, President Joe Biden ensured these costs will continue to drop. In fact, a new study by the clean energy think tank RMI shows the Inflation Reduction Act makes clean energy cheaper than more than 90% of proposed gas plants.
Similarly, a study Duke commissioned from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory revealed that Duke could most economically meet the carbon reduction targets mandated by the law by tripling the proposed solar on its grid by 2030.

Fortunately, the Utilities Commission highlighted both the Duke outages and the Inflation Reduction Act in its order to Duke. When Duke presents its revised plan to the Utilities Commission in September, they will no longer be able to credibly say natural gas is the cheapest and most reliable path.

Fortunately, their Christmas failure shed light on the best way forward for our state. This storm could ultimately lead to a real gift for the people of North Carolina, not just a lump of coal.

Click here to read and share Clark’s entire essay.

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Today’s ‘must read’ op-ed: Key lessons from the Christmas blackouts