Here's the sad, dark truth about our aging electrical grid: The way we generate power is not sustainable and needs to change. Here's the other sad, dark truth: As the U.S. becomes more reliant on renewable energy like solar and wind, our electricity bills are going to go up. Way up.
In fact, you might have already seen some rate spikes on your bill. A cold, snowy winter is to blame for some high electricity prices in much of the country, while a drought is driving up prices in the West. But according to this insightful Los Angeles Times article, those temporary shifts are evidence of a larger trend pointing towards increasing "fragility" in the grid:
There is a growing fragility in the U.S. electricity system, experts warn, the result of the shutdown of coal-fired plants, reductions in nuclear power, a shift to more expensive renewable energy and natural gas pipeline constraints. The result is likely to be future price shocks. And they may not be temporary.
Many of the changes are good moves, or at least they will be in the long run: Coal and nuclear plants are being shut down due to environmental concerns, which will reduce carbon emissions, airborne pollution, and the risk of a disaster. But it's getting more expensive to operate those kind of plants in the meantime. The ones that are still around are being taxed heavily or forced to comply with new regulations at a great cost. Some coal plants are being replaced by natural gas, which is less reliable and can fluctuate in price.
But the real problem lies in switching those old systems off and getting the renewable systems—wind power, solar farms—online. Many states have a mandate to convert a certain percentage of their energy production to renewable energy by a certain date, but they still haven't figured out exactly how that plan will work. Plus all these renewable systems need to have access to a backup system, adding still more costs.
California, which is seen as a leader for renewable energy, has the most aggressive mandate: 33 percent of its power must be renewable by 2020. But that means the cost of electricity could rise 47 percent over the next 16 years.
In the long run, this will all be for the best, of course—if we build the infrastructure for renewable energy, eventually the cost-savings will be evident (and hopefully the impact on our environment even more so). Plus, the antiquated tech that brings that coal/nuclear blend to our homes certainly needs to be eradicated—it's old, inefficient and dangerous.
But if customers start seeing their bills go up, they'll freak out and blame the renewable energy sources, says Alex Leupp, of the Northern California Power Agency. "If power gets too expensive, there will be a revolt," Leupp said. "If the state pushes too fast on renewables before the technology is viable, it could set back the environmental goals we all believe in at the end of the day." [Los Angeles Times]
AP Photo/Chris Carlson