In the wake of recent high-profile electric power failures, numerous policymakers and politicians have asserted an inherent tension between the aims of clean energy and grid reliability. One Texas regulator declared that the best response to the hundreds of deaths caused by last year’s blackouts was for the state never to build another wind turbine again—even though the failure to weatherize natural gas infrastructure has been diagnosed as the blackouts’ primary cause.
At the same time, large utilities such as Duke Energy have proposed major new investments in natural gas generation, citing the need for reliability.
These calls for new fossil fuel investments in the name of reliability are a dangerous distortion of reality. Numerous studies have confirmed the technical feasibility of rapidly transforming the grid to run predominantly on renewable energy at penetration levels of 80% or 90%. Moreover, it should be obvious by now—in a year when one in three Americans has personally experienced the effects of a natural disaster—that continuing to run the grid on fossil fuels is its own recipe for disaster.
In fact, much of the perceived tension between clean energy and reliability is a failure not of infrastructure, but of law and governance. The U.S. system for regulating electricity divides responsibility among too many players, assigns too many overlapping or competing tasks, and creates too many distorted incentives.
Across numerous issues from reliability regulation, to electricity markets, to transmission planning and financing, it is a siloed legal system in need of greater integration and coordination.