Much of America could face significant shortages of electricity as early as 2018, according to a new survey of utility and independent power producers.
The survey of electric providers throughout the Midwest indicates the shortage — roughly 18 months away — would be due to a series of coal and nuclear power plant closures throughout the region.
The amount of surplus electricity available to the region’s utilities in the 15 states will shrink by two-thirds between 2017 and 2018, the survey by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO revealed. Facilities are being closed even before it is know what, if anything, will replace them, MISO’s CEO said.
The new data means there will far less backup power available for utilities during times of peak demand, after the power plants are closed, raising the prospects of blackouts or rolling blackouts.
Specifically, there will be 2.7 surplus gigawatts of electricity available to Midwestern utilities in 2017, but only 900 megawatts available in 2018, the MISO reported. (One thousand megawatts equals 1 gigawatt, enough to power about 650,000 homes.)
“Retirements in excess of new generation are driving supply to tighten in the region,” said John Bear, MISO’s CEO. MISO monitors electricity usage in the Midwest.
Power Plant Closures Threaten Grid’s Sustainability
Coal-fired and nuclear power plants across the Midwest are closing. All total, Midwestern power plants that generate  4.3 gigawatts of electricity – enough to power more than 2.7 million homes — will shut down between now and May 31, 2017, Energy Wire reported. Southern Illinois alone will lose 1.2 gigawatts of electricity by then. An Exelon nuclear plant in Clinton, Iowa, that generates 1.2 gigawatts of electricity is closing, as are three DTE Energy coal plants in Michigan that comprise 900 megawatts of energy.
The Lower Peninsula of Michigan will face a 300 megawatt shortfall of electricity and the state of Missouri is looking at a 800 megawatt shortfall of electricity, MISO found. That means utilities might not be able to keep up with demand during hot summer days, when air conditioning puts a strain on the grid.
In Minnesota, a coal plant in Taconite Harbor will shut down by 2020.
“This is a crucial period given the number of generating plants that have retired recently and are expected to retire,” Sally Talberg, Michigan Public Service Commission chairwoman, told Energy Wire.
The Midwest is not alone. The last operating nuclear plant in California — Diablo Canyon, which powers 1.7 million homes — is scheduled to shut down by 2025. The Los Angeles Times reported the shutdown will cost $3.8 billion. Diablo Canyon’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, plans to switch to renewable energy such as solar and wind.
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