The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Think things are bad under Biden? Get ready for the blackouts.

The production of solar energy, as seen on farmland in Thurmont, Md., is one of the technologies prioritized in President Biden's invoking of the Defense Production Act. (Julio Cortez/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

First came the worst border crisis in U.S. history. Then came the worst inflation in four decades and record-high gas prices. Then came the baby formula shortage.

Next up? Blackouts.

That’s right, just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, add rolling blackouts to the rolling disasters President Biden has unleashed upon the country. The Post reported Thursday that the United States won’t have enough power to get through the summer heat wave, leaving us at risk of widespread power outages — particularly across the Midwest region, stretching from Minnesota to Louisiana, which has enjoyed stable electricity for decades.

This is a national disgrace. Access to cheap, abundant energy is a hallmark of a free society. Just look at a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night. At the bottom, free and democratic South Korea is awash in light, while North Korea is in almost complete darkness, save for a pinprick of light in Pyongyang. The two countries share the same people and the same natural resources, yet one is glowing with the light of freedom, while the other is enveloped in the darkness of human misery.

How has the United States come to the point where swaths of our country might look like North Korea this summer?

The left will be quick to blame extreme weather precipitated by climate change. But according to former Energy Department undersecretary for science and American Enterprise Institute scholar Steven E. Koonin, writing in his book “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters,” U.S. government data shows that “heat waves in the U.S. are now no more common than they were in 1900, and that the warmest temperatures in the U.S. have not risen in the past fifty years." No matter, Biden will almost certainly blame summer blackouts on climate change — citing them as evidence that we need to double down on his efforts to speed the transition to renewable energy.

Letter to the Editor: To save lives, we must turn to nuclear energy

But it is precisely his forced transition to renewable energy that is precipitating the blackouts. The Post reports that a “major reason” for the coming shortages is early shuttering of fossil-fuel plants — particularly coal — that are needed to meet increased summer electricity demand. “Some of the coal plants that regulators assumed would keep running for another year or two are instead coming offline” because “plant operators are choosing to shut down rather than invest in upgrades for coal plants.” As Jim Robb, chief executive of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), tells The Post, “Coal plant operators are saying ‘uncle.’ ”

Who made them cry uncle? Biden and his war on fossil fuels. Speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, climate envoy John F. Kerry openly declared that the Biden administration plans to put the coal industry out of business within eight years. “By 2030 in the United States, we won’t have coal. We will not have coal plants,” Kerry said. When you announce that you intend to drive an industry out of existence, people do not invest in it. And when you try to end fossil fuels before a renewable-energy infrastructure exists to replace it, the result is shortages and blackouts.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the shuttering of coal-fired electric plants will make up 85 percent of all electric-generation capacity retirements this year, taking a massive 12.6 gigawatts of capacity offline. And the remaining coal-fired plants are “having difficulty obtaining fuel,” according to a recent report from the NERC, because of “mine closures, rail shipping limitations, and increased coal exports” — further reducing our capacity to generate power this summer.

These shutdowns of coal plants and coal mines are intentional — part of the administration’s plan to “decarbonize” U.S. power generation. The problem is that renewables are not yet ready to make up for lost coal capacity, because the batteries needed to store wind and solar power are not yet commercially available. So when there’s no wind or sun, there’s no electricity.

Catherine Rampell: We already achieved ‘energy independence.’ What good did it do us?

The result will be not only blackouts but also skyrocketing energy prices. As demand rises while supply is constrained, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission predicts that electricity prices could rise by as much as 233 percent over last summer’s power prices.This will dwarf the rise in gasoline prices that have taken place since Biden took office.

So, what is Biden doing about it? The president just announced he is invoking the Defense Production Act to accelerate domestic production of — wait for it — solar panels, while waiving tariffs on solar panel imports from China’s state-subsidized solar industry. How about using the law to upgrade the coal plants needed to keep American homes powered and air conditioning running this summer? Or better yet, how about simply suspending the war on coal?

This is a looming disaster for the Biden administration. Unlike the baby formula shortage, which only affects parents with newborns, electricity shortages will affect everyone — shutting off air conditioners in the midst of summer heat and plunging entire communities into darkness, just months before the midterm elections. Then Americans will have a chance to go to the polls. And when they do, blackouts will be on the ballot.