Please disable your Ad Blocker to better interact with this website.

Jannah Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.
CommentariesEnergyGovernment PoliciesNews

Commentary: Electricity Blackouts Are Here, and Regulation By Wishful Thinking Won’t Cut It

Will this presidential election be the most important in American history?

Commentary by Tony Clark originally published by

Hardly a week goes by without reports regarding the growing threat of electricity blackouts in the U.S. It brings to mind Ernest Hemmingway’s line in The Sun Also Rises about bankruptcy happening “two ways…gradually, then suddenly.” For years, electric reliability has been an increasing concern. Nonetheless, it’s all a bit jarring to see evidence that much of the U.S. is shifting from the “gradually” phase of electric reliability decline and into the “suddenly” phase.

My former agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, recently released its summer reliability assessment, and it is concerning. The problem is not limited to just one region of the country – it spreads across two-thirds of it. While the blackouts in Texas and California are the most obvious examples of the reliability cliff, they are no longer alone. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which runs the grid in much of the central U.S., lost 2.3 percent of its generating capacity in just the last year and is issuing notices that it may be short of power during the summer. Much of the Western U.S. is also at risk. New York’s and New England’s vulnerability to disruption, especially in the winter, is real and troubling.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which develops reliability standards for the industry, further confirmed the challenge in its just-released reliability report. A NERC spokesman said, “It’s clear the risks are spreading. … and the pace of our grid transformation is a bit out of sync with the underlying realities and the physics of the system.” Put another way, too many on-demand power plants have retired relative to the capabilities of the grid we have today.

My point here is not to bash renewable energy or other emerging technologies, but we had better have a plan for how to integrate them reliably before giving up the resources needed for 24/7 power. We should listen to the engineers who run the grid as we embark on the clean energy transition. But herein lies the rub. In my years as an energy regulator, I witnessed a steady rise in regulation by wishful thinking, prodded by a bevy of influential energy think tanks and non-profits.

Often this wishful thinking is expressed in the form of simplistic bumper-sticker sentiments like, “we only need to harness the power of the markets,” or “we just need more transmission.” Unfortunately, today’s electricity markets aren’t going to solve this problem. The markets, as represented by Regional Transmission Organizations, have been stretched to the breaking point. These are “markets” that would be unrecognizable to Adam Smith or Milton Friedman. They are overrun by public policy mandates, subsidies, and out-of-market payments to generators.

The result is incorrect price signals and the abandonment of resources needed to maintain reliability. An electricity market that cannot provide reliable service is a market that is broken. Especially vulnerable have been nuclear units, the nation’s largest source of carbon-free on-demand power. As for transmission, it’s likely part of a long-term solution, but planning and permitting hurdles mean it can take a decade or more to build even a single line. It is clearly not a quick fix for immediate reliability concerns.

There are signs that the gravity of the situation is finally sinking in. California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he now supports the creation of a “strategic electric reliability reserve” of on-demand generation – including fossil fuel units – that would ensure reliability. In my home state of North Dakota, officials rallied to save a large baseload coal plant that has plans to implement carbon capture technology. But these are scattered actions. And for every one of them, there are opposite examples, like Arizona and New Mexico officials refusing to authorize renewable-supporting on-demand generation.

There is work to be done at the federal level too. FERC has been pulled in many directions lately, from environmentalists prodding it to become a shadow-EPA, to Big Tech companies seeking to re-write energy regulations to benefit themselves. FERC should refocus on its most important mission – a reliable supply of reasonably priced energy to the American people. It could require the nation’s RTOs to explain why their market rules should not be overhauled to retain needed generation capacity. And the permitting of critical infrastructure like gas pipelines should be responsibly streamlined, not burdened with even more red tape.

Bankruptcy doesn’t happen overnight and neither has the deterioration of electric reliability. And as with bankruptcy, steering the nation out of the reliability ditch won’t be quick or easy. The sooner policymakers get serious about addressing the root causes of the problem – market and regulatory dysfunction and the rapid decline of on-demand generation capacity – the quicker we’ll be on the road to recovery.

Tony Clark was a Member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2012-2016 and is a former Chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission. He is a Senior Advisor at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, where he works with clients in the energy and utility industry.

Deneen Borelli

Deneen Borelli is the author of Blacklash: How Obama and the Left are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation. Deneen is a contributor with Newsmax Broadcasting. She is a former Fox News contributor and has appeared regularly on “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and “America’s Newsroom.” She has also appeared on Fox Business Network programs “Making Money with Charles Payne,” “The Evening Edit with Liz MacDonald,” and “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.” Previously, Deneen appeared on MSNBC, CNN, the BBC and C-SPAN. In addition to television, Deneen co-hosted radio programs on the SiriusXM Patriot channel with her husband Tom. Recently, Deneen co-hosted the Reigniting Liberty podcast with Tom. Deneen is a frequent speaker at political events, including the FreedomWorks 9.12.2009 March on D.C. which drew a crowd estimated at over 800,000 people. Deneen is also an Ambassador with, a social media platform that promotes free speech, and with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) which advances policies that put Americans first. Deneen testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in May 2011 and before the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee in December 2011. Previously, Deneen was a host, Outreach Director with overseeing its outreach program, a Project 21 Senior Fellow, and Manager of Media Relations with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Prior to joining CORE, Deneen worked at Philip Morris USA for 20 years. During her corporate career at Philip Morris she worked in various positions, her last as Project Management Coordinator in the Information Management department where she was responsible for the department’s mandated quality processes, communications, sales information and database management. Deneen began her Philip Morris career as a secretary and advanced to positions of increasing responsibilities. Deneen worked full-time and attended classes at night for 11 years to earn her B.A. in Managerial Marketing from Pace University, New York City. Deneen served on the Board of Trustees with The Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, New York. She appeared in educational videos for children, worked as a runway fashion model, and auditioned for television commercials. Her interests include ancient history, pistol target shooting, photography, and volunteering at her church. Deneen currently resides in Connecticut with her husband Tom.

Related Articles