by Lisa Richardson and Mark Reynolds**
During a summer of unprecedented weather disasters and climate extremes, a diverse mix of power options protected Americans from blackouts as temperatures soared.
NASA named the summer of 2023 as the hottest on record and the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that the past eight years were the warmest on record globally. It’s clear that America’s electric grid is under more pressure than ever. How can it withstand the strain?
Right now, our energy system is dominated by fossil fuels. But fossil fuels don’t always keep the lights on. Even oil- and gas-rich Texas suffered major power outages a few years ago when the demands for energy were high, but their grid wasn’t up to the task.
Thankfully, an energy mix with growing amounts of carbon-free wind, solar and hydroelectric power is coming online. Indeed, for the first time, renewables generated 25% of U.S. power in the first half of 2023. This trend is allowing Americans to hold the line as we face the challenge of dangerous heat.
Let’s look again to Texas, where residents experienced weeks of stifling triple-digit heat. The state broke all-time peak power demand records between June 27 and August 12. With potential outages putting the young, old, infirm and vulnerable at risk, the state’s power grid remained mostly stable this time, thanks to renewable energy sources and battery storage. Texas has more wind-generated electricity than any other state and is also a leader in solar energy.
Likewise, in August, when record temperatures hit California, that state’s renewable energy mix and battery storage capacity powered through the worst of the heat. A growing amount of solar power also helped avert energy shortages during the European heat waves.
As climate change accelerates faster than scientists predicted, we must change our energy systems as quickly and efficiently as possible. Transitioning to clean, domestic energy will protect us from blackouts. It will shield Americans from international price shocks and energy inflation. The numbers already look good, with renewables cutting global power costs by $520 billion in 2022 and many U.S. states — especially rural ones — seeing record investment and jobs thanks to lucrative clean energy projects.
Now it’s essential to finish the job, making sure we not only have clean energy options, but also ensuring that clean energy can be transmitted where it’s needed.
Thankfully, a new bill in the Senate and House will do exactly that. The BIG WIRES Act would go a long way toward making America’s electric grid more reliable and resilient. It would require utilities to allow more power to flow between regions of the country, helping protect against major, long-term outages due to extreme weather events. This additional transmission would lower energy costs for Americans overall — areas producing cheap energy can sell it to regions where it is more expensive, and regions can connect new, low-cost resources to the grid.
Rep. Glenn Thompson and Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman should support the common-sense solutions laid out in the BIG WIRES Act. It is time for Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation to back legislation that allows the integration of abundant, renewable energy and ensures that all Americans are protected from life-threatening blackouts.
**Lisa Richardson is co-leader of the State College chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
This OpEd appeared in the Dec. 10, 2023 issue of the Centre Daily Times.