We take electricity for granted. Until we don’t have it. According to Entergy, over 250,000 Mississippi customers in its monopoly service area were recently without electricity for days. Some, for weeks. They were unhappy.
Mississippi’s Central District Public Service Commissioner bestirred himself to excoriate Entergy and its CEO for the outages. They were caused by an Act of God – unforeseen bad weather. Entergy’s CEO understandably pled Force Majeure. And brought in lots of crews to restore service.
I have said critical things about utility executives and their boondoggles (e.g. Mississippi Power’s Kemper County Lignite Plant that never generated electricity from lignite and Entergy’s solar plants that occasionally generate electricity). And about Mississippi’s Public Service Commission which approves the boondoggles. And about the politicians who encourage the PSC to approve them. But in this case, I will cut Entergy and its CEO some slack. And credit them and their frontline workers for their all-out efforts in response to the freak thunderstorms.
However, I think the Central District Commissioner may be guilty of hypocrisy and sleeping at the switch. Actually he hasn’t been asleep. He’s just been busy promoting green energy and rubber-stamping Entergy’s solar plant schemes – instead of asking questions before the lights go out. We shouldn’t be surprised since he was promoting green energy when he was elected in 2019. In a close race. He won by 2022 votes out of 291,170 cast. He’s running for re-election. He may go back to his old job.
He is harshly critical of Entergy’s response to the storms. He wants more detailed reports about the company’s response. Sound like a bureaucrat sitting in his office waiting on the paperwork? Did the Commissioner get out to see damage and repair efforts firsthand? Talk to his constituents? Do something constructive? Well, he said he was going to monitor the situation closely. I guess that passes for constructive in government work.
He also said he would hold utilities accountable for providing affordable and reliable service. At the same time he promotes and votes for solar power that makes electricity more expensive and less reliable. Talking out of both sides of your mouth. That’s hypocrisy.
Green energy promoters want green electricity – as in dollars that its subsidies and tax breaks bring. They don’t care if it’s not on when you need it. That’s someone else’s problem. That’s most of the time. Here’s a factoid. Entergy’s Mississippi Sunflower Solar Plant generated electricity 14% of the time between September 2022 and March 2023. It generated electricity 6% of the time in December. So it didn’t generate electricity 94% of the time. Well duh! That’s the math.
So what happens when you flip the switch if the sun’s not shining? If you are lucky, your utility has a backup plant and is in a stable electric grid. Hopefully the backup is a combined cycle natural gas plant that’s cheap and reliable. It probably idles on standby most of the time (even when the sun is shining) in case an unforeseen storm comes up. So your utility needs two plants to assure reliable electricity if one of them is a solar plant. Isn’t that more expensive? Yes. Does the utility care? No. Actually it likes it. A lot. Why?
If the PSC approves the solar plant and its natural gas backup, the cost of the electricity they generate goes into the rate base and shows up in the customer’s monthly bill. The customer pays more, and the utility breaks even. But the utility gets a kicker. It gets an authorized 11% return on its investment in the plants. The customer pays for this too. The more the utility spends on plants, the more it makes. And the more customers pay. No wonder utilities and their shareholders like duplicate plants.
The customer gets double-dipped too. He pays more for electricity. And he gets less reliable service. Why is that? Solar power is intermittent. It’s not on all the time. And it’s unpredictable even on summer days when the sun usually shines. It doesn’t shine all the time even then. Perfectly clear days are rare in Mississippi. Cloudy days aren’t – especially in the winter. It’s dark every night.
Solar’s intermittency (off-again, on-again Finnegan) is a problem for the grid that connects plants that generate electricity and customers that use it. The grid doesn’t store electricity. So the customer’s demand for electricity must be in balance with the supply of electricity from the plants that generate it. Otherwise, the grid destabilizes and bad things happen (e.g., rolling brownouts, blackouts, and even grid failure). The larger the grid, the more resilience it has to deal with minor imbalances in supply and demand. The more intermittent sources of power, the less resilience the grid has.
We know about near grid failures in Texas and California and their consequences. Too many intermittent wind and solar plants triggered these close calls. Our grid in Mississippi and its regional MISO grid interconnect is not yet contaminated with too much intermittency. But over 50 pending solar projects could change that. Need Commissioners to do their jobs. And less ink for the rubber stamps.
The PSC is the gatekeeper. But it’s not assuring customers affordable reliable electricity. Maybe this coming election will see some constructive changes. It’s been reported that Mississippi has the nation’s cheapest gasoline. It could have the cheapest and most reliable electricity too with its access to pipelines crossing the state with cheap natural gas. Would be a boost for economic development and jobs.
Germany has destroyed its manufacturing base with its green energy obsession and resulting high cost unreliable power. Other companies like Steel Dynamics, which is building an aluminum plant in NE Mississippi’s TVA service area with cheap reliable electricity, might locate plants in Mississippi too. Maybe in Entergy’s service area in the PSC’s Central District.
Wouldn’t that be loverly? Loverly.
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