The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, August 03, 2016 10:00 pm

Steady transition

Brian Bergsma

Without doubt, Indiana Michigan Power and the nation are moving toward more renewable energy and reducing reliance on coal-fueled power plants. The question isn’t "if" but "how" – as quickly as possible or with a cost-effective and strategic transition?

While the "do-it-now" approach sounds appealing, Germany shows that haste indeed creates waste that customers can ill afford.

Germany’s Parliament voted July 8 to severely reduce subsidies that support renewable energy as the onerous cost of their swift switch to significant green energy also threatens the reliability of their electric grid.

Solar and wind power are intermittent and difficult to predict, while factories, businesses and homes need access to reliable, 24/7 power. Coal and nuclear plants cannot simply be turned on or off; taking them offline and returning them online can take days. So when those plants are running and it’s a sunny, windy day, the excess energy coming from both 24/7 plants and renewable sources can overwhelm the grid.

Electricity must be used as it is generated. Storage in large quantities is impractical, so excess power causes problems. In Germany, it sometimes results in "negative" pricing – and results in grid instability.

And the costs are substantial. The average American pays between 10 cents and 11 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. With the subsidies for wind and solar power, a typical German pays 39 cents per kilowatt hour.

Five years ago, Germany adopted a policy to wean itself off nuclear energy by 2022. With nuclear on the way out, the need to maintain 24/7 reliability has actually increased use of coal-fueled energy, leading to higher carbon emissions in Germany.

Meanwhile, Indiana Michigan Power already produces more than half of its energy with non-carbon-emitting sources that include wind, solar, nuclear and hydro.

I&M is pursuing a sound approach for incorporating renewable generation into the grid, starting with four solar power plants in a pilot project that, along with our current wind generation, produces enough power for more than 100,000 homes annually. I&M is expanding its practical knowledge as we continue to grow more solar in the future. By 2035, I&M plans enough renewable power to light 400,000 homes.

Some critics have called for I&M to close all or part of its only remaining coal plant, in Rockport, where it is one of the community’s largest employers. I&M understands the need to add renewables and reduce emissions – but at least for now, Rockport is needed to help fulfill our mission of providing reliable energy at affordable prices.

While I&M moves toward more renewables and less coal, we also believe the transition must be accomplished in a smart way that best serves our customers.

The lesson from Germany is clear and well known: Haste makes waste. 


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