Wisconsin Regulator Downplays Blackout Risk, Calls for Continued Use of Fossil Fuels | Government and politics


A Wisconsin utility regulator says there is little risk of power outages this summer while warning against the retirement of fossil fuel generators.

Ellen Nowak, a member of the Public Service Commission, played down reports this spring from the Midwestern grid operator and an international grid controller, which warned that generation capacity could fall short of demand in some circumstances this summer.

While stressing that there is always a risk of power outages, Nowak said it would take a “perfect storm” – such as unscheduled generator shutdowns combined with extreme heat or catastrophic weather – to trigger forced outages.

“I don’t press the panic button,” Nowak said.

Nowak, the only Republican representative in the three-member PSC, made the comments during an online meeting hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby.

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Scott Manley, executive director of the group of companies, said members had been asking since the initial report whether they should plan to go without electricity.

“That’s one of the biggest concerns we’ve heard about,” Manley said.

Nowak explained some of the reasons why the network operator, known as MISO, doesn’t have as much extra capacity as carriers prefer, mostly in neighboring states like Illinois and Indiana.

These reasons include coal and nuclear plant retirements, delays in adding new generation, and a lack of long-distance transmission lines to move excess electricity to where it is needed.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Nowak said of the news. “I think it’s a good reality check on how the system works.”

Earlier this month, independent watchdog MISO said the network should have enough supply this summer.

Nowak said the only customers likely to be affected this summer are those in demand-response programs, which reward participating customers for reducing their electricity use at certain times to keep the system balanced.

In an emergency, Nowak said MISO would shut down the largest loads first — usually factories — and usually for short periods of time.

“MISO has never ordered load reduction for residential customers,” she said. “We don’t need to become preppers.”

Nowak noted that Wisconsin utilities expected to have excess capacity in the coming years — even before the recent announcement that the retirement of three coal-fired plants had been postponed.

But the state’s five largest utilities say they will stop burning coal by 2040 and phase out carbon emissions entirely by 2050, a policy Manley called “unserious.”

Groups of international scientists have warned that the world must halve greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade and eliminate them entirely by 2050 to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.

Researchers from Princeton University and the federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory say it is possible to meet the country’s energy needs with net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 using existing technology, although that this would require massive investments in wind and solar generation as well as transmission lines. .

Nowak said Gov. Tony Evers’ stated goal of achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 “frightens” him, and warned against eliminating any source of generation.

“We still need a generation-above policy in our state,” Nowak said. “That doesn’t mean abandoning renewables…it just means maximizing, not limiting, resources.”

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