While California may have a population nearly 40 times greater than Montana, utility consumers are still subject to the same vulnerabilities. With current technology, the best way to protect utility customers from an energy shortage is through an increase in available, reliable baseload power.
Out-of-state and foreign interests are applying increased pressure on lawmakers and consumers to replace baseload power with wind, solar and geothermal sources. Demands from outside interest groups for an almost irreversible change in how utilities provide power are accompanied by accelerated timetables to implement such substantial change. I share the concern with many that shifting away from reliable baseload power will eventually lead to brown-outs – and they may come in the not-so-distant future – unless we begin to prepare now.
There seems to be a precarious hostility toward flexibility in the course of this approach. To have a decipherable path toward a sustainable energy future, we need to appreciate the business concept of scale. If we cannot scale, we will fail. It would be a grave mistake for anyone to accept that a policy or judicial mandate somehow ensures that success is a foregone conclusion.
Some may consider the reality that electricity is not something that occurs naturally in the environment to be an inconvenient truth, but it is still reality. There are those out there who would insist we make an absolute choice between baseload power and a renewable-heavy portfolio. However, the market, and science, suggest renewable energy and reliable baseload power sources are natural partners. They can, and should, coexist.
Classic doom and gloom scenarios exist on the fringes of both sides of the energy debate. If we are going to maintain a safe, reliable power grid for years to come, we have to focus by pruning distractions from self-anointed experts on all sides.
We must address the potential manmade energy shortage that can be caused as a result of mandating utility providers phase out the only backup for wind and solar energy. If we fail to do this, brown-outs will not only prevent lights from turning on at night and heaters warming homes during the winter. During brown-outs, medical devices such as respiratory aids, artificial pancreas devices and breast pumps can be unavailable to those dependent on them.
Though the market share of electric vehicles (EV) in Montana is still barely measureable in Montana, EV sales grew nearly 92 percent in our state over the last two years. With our urban areas experiencing the most growth, and more people moving here from other states, trends like this will continue to put stress on our power grid.
Increasing Montana’s available supply of baseload power is an investment in the potential of clean, renewable energy – and will keep consumer prices low. We are already one of the 10 largest consumers of renewable energy, and we can maintain this momentum with an increasingly secure baseload. Montanans cannot afford to go down the path of California, which is racing to eliminate reliable baseload power. They lead the nation in power outages and have some of the most expensive electricity rates in the country.
Power providers are not like a Silicon Valley dotcom companies. When one fails, there are not thousands of backups to turn to. Baseload power is not like a sponge. When it dries up, you cannot just add water.
Brad Johnson was elected to the Public Service Commission in November 2014. He is the commission chairman and represents District 5.