The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Avoiding blackouts in an energy crisis

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I’m a utility regulatory lawyer, and a line in the June 3 front-page article “Officials warn of summer blackouts” jumped out at me. Texas energy officials asking residents to turn their thermostats up to 78 degrees caught my eye as an antiquated response to a problem that has a readily available modern solution.

Smart thermostats (as low as $100) make automatic adjustments to air conditioning when customers aren’t home and provide a platform for utilities to run programs that make slight adjustments on thermostats in return for cash payments. In exchange for about $40 per month, customers agree to let the utilities make small one-to-two-degree adjustments to their thermostats a few times per month.

The more customers who participate, the smaller the adjustments the utilities make. The lower usage helps keep everyone’s power on, and holds bills down as the utilities don’t need as much expensive peak power.

Utilities and state commissions have failed to modernize our energy system and get more smart thermostats in homes. In this crisis, utilities and regulators shouldn’t overlook this simple, inexpensive solution.

Robert Kelter, Chicago

The writer is a senior lawyer for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The June 3 Politics & the Nation article “Undoing Trump, EPA will empower states and tribes to oppose pipelines” referred to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that would authorize states to block pipelines or other facilities that cross a state.

The June 3 front-page article “Officials warn of summer blackouts” explained that a major source of coming blackouts are the actions that state and local authorities take to block critical infrastructure projects essential to maintaining reliable electricity service. The article referred to “the inability of utilities to get badly needed transmission lines built … and difficulties delivering natural gas supplies to the power plants that are a critical backstop to wind and solar energy.”

The threat of blackouts and the inability to mitigate climate change were attributed to the obstructive behavior of state and local officials: “Energy experts point to transmission lines as an area in which the current system is failing. They are sorely needed to bring power generated at solar and wind farms in rural locations across state lines to energy-thirsty cities. But state regulators have been slow to approve them amid protests from property owners who don’t want the power lines on their land.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is “working on rules intended to help clear the path for more lines to be built.”

It is easy to draft a rule that would solve the problem. It should state the opposite of the rule that the EPA has proposed: “States and localities cannot take actions that significantly increase the risk of blackouts and impair the nation’s ability to mitigate climate change.”

Richard J. Pierce Jr., Washington

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