- - Sunday, January 20, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As we enter a new year, we must face the fact that modern problems require modern solutions. The recent Consumer Electronics Show highlighted a wide variety of innovative, forward-looking technologies that will usher in a new age of performance and connectivity. As we become more technology-dependent, the shared need of Americans for resilient, stable and economic power will continue to grow.

Whether it’s new electric vehicles or a nationwide fifth-generation wireless network, in order to address modern technological need, our leaders must focus on maximizing modern, clean power generation technology by unshackling energy producers from burdensome regulations. Bailing out uncompetitive industries, as the Trump administration has proposed for outdated nuclear and coal plants, is not the answer and only handicaps progress toward a smarter, technologically-centric future.

The American economy needs a cost-effective, safe and secure power-generation capability to sustain a growing economy filled with opportunity. Given the energy revolution the United States is currently enjoying, now is the time to do the right thing: Get government out of the way and let the free market decide the best means to provide safe and reliable electric power.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has supported subsidizing nuclear- and coal-fired power generating facilities through a Korean War-era bill called the Defense Production Act of 1950. Despite the availability of newer, less expensive and equally secure power generation technologies, plans have been floated to keep uncompetitive coal plants online.

According to the administration, our power distribution systems must “depend on an electric grid that can withstand and recover from a major disruption, whether from an adversarial attack or a natural disaster.” The administration believes, erroneously, that coal- and nuclear-fired plants are less susceptible to disruptions than other forms of power generation like natural gas. But subsidizing older power generation to compete with newer technology is counterproductive, short-sighted and an exhausted possibility.



This is one more federal policy that ignores technological advances by private-sector companies that prepare for natural disasters and adversarial assaults, such as cyber-attacks. As with previous federal initiatives, this scheme has been developed from political motivations, not from scientific methods, technological advances or private-sector market decisions by companies whose sole purpose is to provide safe and secure electrical power.

More recently, government intervention in the power-generation industry has resulted in federally backed loans to solar panel manufacturers, tax credits for wind-powered electrical generators and regulations to carry out the alleged “war on coal.” All were intended to sidestep the basic economics of satisfying consumer demand by private-sector means. Through these policies we have built solar power arrays and wind towers for electrical power-generating capabilities, but each of these policy stratagems has been problematic.

With maintenance and operational costs triple that of gas turbines, nuclear power-generation plants are a money pit for consumers. With cheaper, more efficient and more easily maintained gas turbines powering the electric grid, governments, businesses, and consumers will benefit. Lower energy costs will free up more capital and allow utilities to invest in newer infrastructure and further enhance their power-generation capabilities.

America’s power sector has weighed the threats from outside forces, such as cyber-attacks and natural disasters. In 2017, pipeline operators spent $6.1 billion to secure their infrastructure and these operators are slated to increase investment in the coming years. Exaggerated, worst-case-scenario reports from alarmist voices exacerbate fears and advise top-down solutions that vitalize those calling for taxpayer subsidies.

With their operability at stake, the natural gas industry is keenly aware of the cyber and physical threats they face, which is why they are a leading stakeholder in the energy industry on cyber preparedness. Efforts include taking part in training exercises that simulate cyber and armed assaults on U.S. electric networks and working closely with a number of federal agencies, like TSA, DHS and DoD, to improve the resiliency of the grid. For all these entities, the failure of a power disruption is not an option.

Winston Churchill once famously said, “You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing but only after they have exhausted every other possibility.” Churchill made this statement while expressing frustration to wait on U.S. support during the early stages of World War II. Yet today, this line could apply to the Trump administration’s power generation policy.

The excuse of using Cold War policies from the ‘50s, flavored with today’s cyber security threats to justify subsidizing older power-generation systems is an exhausted strategy, like previous problematic proposals to prop up less competitive sectors. It’s time for America to finally do the right thing and rely on market-driven, private-sector solutions to provide reliable and secure electrical power.

• Todd Tiahrt is a former Republican member of Congress from Kansas who served on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

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