Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry Alford & Kay DeBow
In many states, including the Carolinas, energy companies are planning to transition their power generation away from coal to cleaner burning natural gas. In many ways, this is a critical improvement that will result in better air quality, and ensure that customers have access to both clean and affordable power.
To be transparent, this move to clean burning natural gas is not without some detractors. There are concerns that energy companies are not going far enough in their commitment to renewable sources of power, like windmills and solar.
But, as someone who has dedicated his career to urging businesses to invest in policies that protect African-Americans and other underserved communities, I believe it would be a mistake to only build power generation from renewable sources of energy. With so many low-income families struggling during this pandemic, we cannot add another financial burden onto people fighting to make ends meet.
Understand, I am all for taking aggressive steps to reduce our usage of fossil fuels and transition to clean energy production. But, we must remember that the Obama administration urged power companies to decommission their coal plants and invest in cleaner natural gas production until renewables were up to the job. And, the simple fact is that renewables are not yet up to the job – at least on their own – because battery technology is not sufficient to meet demands.
If there is a cold snap or a heat wave, and the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, there could be a shortage of power simply because the batteries cannot replenish the renewable power when it’s not available. This is not a hypothetical problem, this is a scientific reality.
Also, making large-scale investments in renewables now would in many ways be short-sighted, because these technologies are both rapidly becoming more efficient and affordable. Hence, spending massive sums of money on these renewable technologies today would prevent energy companies from having resources to spend in the future, when these renewable products will be more efficient and cost effective. Again, waiting until these technologies are better investments means that the utilities can keep their prices down now and in the future, benefitting low-income customers for decades.
Clearly, what makes the most sense is to continue to follow the glide path laid out by the Obama administration, which urges energy companies to transition to natural gas, until renewables are affordable and up to the task of ensuring that power can be affordable and reliable.
Diverting from this plan too early will only result in power being costly and unreliable. We should not entertain these options, and doing so would likely mean that the poorest families will suffer the most from cost increases and power outages.
I am proud to support balanced approaches to more renewables at a pace that ensures all customers will have reliable and affordable power now, and for future generations.
Harry Alford is co-founder, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Ms. DeBow is the executive vice-president and co-founder of the NBCC.