NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 3, 2008

The United States faces significant risk of power brownouts and blackouts as early as next summer that may cost tens of billions of dollars and threaten lives, says the NextGen Energy Council.  It will require about 120 GW of new electricity generation just to maintain a 15 percent reserve margin; this will require at least $300 billion in generation and transmission facility investments by 2016.

Examining the current state of energy generation in the United States today, researchers found that:

  • The United States will require more than 14,500 miles of new electricity transmission lines by 2016.
  • While renewable energy proponents are saying that the United States needs to only add renewable power facilities such as wind farms, generators, at their peak, only produce between five and 20 percent of required energy.
  • Rapidly increasing demand for steel and copper has caused spot scarcity of the resources required to manufacture key electrical components; manufacturers are reluctant to add more capacity until they can be certain about future industry investments.

Moreover, the researchers identified the primary barriers to getting new power plants and transmission lines built. Chief among these is the opposition of well-funded environmental groups that oppose and file lawsuits against virtually every new infrastructure project proposed.  Other obstacles include:

  • Opposition to natural gas production, which is needed to fuel the growing reliance on natural gas fired power plants.
  • Challenges associated with putting more intermittent renewable power sources on the grid.
  • Regulatory uncertainty associated with climate change policy development and the reluctance by state regulators to approve rate increases related to the imposition of new environmental regulation.
  • The relatively shorter-term approach to resource planning and acquisition that industry has been forced to adopt.

Source: Editorial, "Study: U.S. Faces Serious Risk of Brownouts and Blackouts in 2009," Transmission and Distribution World, October 1, 2008; based upon: "Lights Out in 2009?"

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