Roger Moe and Mike Beard: Reliability and Affordability Should be Priorities in Our Energy Supply

Posted January 20, 2015

Co-chairmen Roger Moe and Mike Beard’s letter to the editor appeared in the Morris SunTribune on Saturday, January 17. The letter addressed the importance of a reliable electric grid and pointed out that intermittent sources like wind and solar are pieces that can work together with baseload sources like coal to achieve an all-of-the-above reliable and affordable solution for meeting the region’s electricity needs.

Read the article on the SunTribune’s website here.


Reliability and affordability should be priorities in our energy supply

A common misconception about electricity sources is that they are interchangeable and one works just as good as another. That’s not the case. Coal-based electricity provides 24-7 power. Wind and solar are both intermittent.

Coal-based electric generation sources cannot be removed and replaced with another, such as wind or natural gas, because the electricity source itself is different.

As an example, Minnkota Power Cooperative, which provides electricity to eight electric distribution cooperatives in northwestern Minnesota, saw a vast difference in generation last Jan. 7, 2014 — one of the coldest days of the year.

When the sun went down, so did the temperatures, reaching a bone-chilling minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit shortly before midnight. Minnkota has the potential of generating 357 megawatts of electricity from its wind turbines when the wind is blowing between 25 and 35 miles per hour (mph) but that night wind was below 7 mph and the actual generation was only about 34 megawatts.

Most of the cooperative’s electricity — about 560 megawatts — was coming from two coal-based power plants in central North Dakota — the Milton R. Young Station near Center and the Coyote Station near Beulah. A megawatt is enough electricity to serve about 800 customers. Power from both the Young and Coyote Stations is approximately $25 per megawatt-hour, some of the affordable power in the United States. Because of the extreme temperatures, electricity from other sources was selling for over $300 a megawatt-hour.

With electricity demand exceeding generation sources, Minnkota had little choice but to reduce demand by asking some of its commercial customers to switch to backup power supplies. Also, many residential customers have dual fuel capabilities and can switch from electricity to propane for home heating and water heating purposes. By shaving the electric peak, Minnkota was able to serve the needs of the electric distribution cooperatives.

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a moratorium on the construction of any new conventional coal-based power plants and is also contemplating a rule to regulate existing coal-based power plants for carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s important for energy users to understand the basics of generation and transmission to ensure that regulations don’t result in a situation where extreme weather conditions put human lives at risk.

The reliability of the electric grid is important. Coal-based power plants have provided the baseload power that we have come to expect. It’s important that policymakers view into the future to determine the lasting consequences of their decisions today.

Roger Moe is a former DFL State Senator and Majority Leader from Erskine and served from 1972 until 2002. Mike Beard is a Republican State Representative from Shakopee serving from 2002 until announcing his retirement this year. Moe and Beard serve as co-chairs for the Coalition for a Secure Energy Future.