Matt Berry guestcolumn: Renewable not aways reliable energy

Matt Berry - Guest spot

Midwest Electric has received a number of pubic and member inquiries seeking our opinion on the proposed Lima solar field.

We are a distribution utility. The solar farm is a generating company. We are both in the electric business, but in entirely different aspects of it. We also are not a landowner in that area. Therefore, we take no position on this particular solar project.

As a not-for-profit and customer-owned cooperative, our goal is affordable and reliable electricity. While we take no position on any single project, we do have broader concerns if state or federal energy policy continues to promote intermittent renewable energy at the expense of baseload fossil fuel generating plants.

Just look to California as an example of misguided energy policy.

Last summer, California experienced ongoing power blackouts during a heat wave because the state ran out of electricity. How could rolling blackouts occur in a state that’s a leader in technology and innovation?

The answer: California’s over-reliance on “innovative” plans rather than sound science and engineering principles. California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees the state’s electricity market, declared a statewide emergency on August 14 and 15, citing the heatwave’s strain on the electric grid as a result of the increased demand for power. Governor Gavin Newsome blamed regulators for not anticipating the issue and for failing to supply the state with “reliable power.” The CAISO had sounded the alarm last year that California’s utilities were systematically under-forecasting possible demand for electricity and had become overly reliant on intermittent wind and, particularly, solar generation. California’s Senate Bill 100 mandates that the 60% of the state’s power be generated by renewable sources by 2030. California has avoided similar problems in recent years by relying on power imports from surrounding states. (The surrounding states experienced the same heat wave but did not have blackouts, because they have avoided the renewable energy pitfalls.)

An estimated 3.3 million people were affected by the blackouts. In retail-speak, supply couldn’t keep up with demand. As solar supply decreased when the sun began to set, and other states shared less excess supply due to the extensive heat wave, the CAISO operators had little choice. Temporary power interruptions were necessary to avoid a wide system collapse, followed by a lengthy restoration effort.

Compounding the problem is the fact that California power rates are among the highest in the nation, and typically twice those in surrounding states, for less-than-dependable service. This calls into question the claim that renewable energy will lead to lower energy rates.

In order to ensure reliability, power supplies need to be planned, resilient, and responsive under a variety of conditions — especially during blistering heat and biting cold. That’s the model that allows Ohio’s 24 not-for-profit electric cooperatives to dependably serve nearly 1 million consumers in 77 of the state’s 88 counties.

Integration is the key to reliable, affordable power generation. Ohio’s electric cooperatives, as well as most of the country’s electric cooperatives, employ an “all of the above” approach — fossil fuels, biomass, hydropower, and renewables. Ohio is part of the PJM organization that also covers power transmission for 65 million consumers in all or parts of 13 midwestern and mid-Atlantic states. When Ohio sees a spike in demand, PJM is able to call on additional generation because its dispatchable energy—power that’s controlled by the system operators—consists of nuclear, coal, and natural gas, with renewables playing a supporting role. As generation from renewables increases, so does the potential for insufficient supply for increased demand, along with higher rates for consumers.

The concept of converting the nation’s power generation to primarily renewable sources—notably, wind and solar—is admirable, authentic and politically correct; however, as we’ve seen in California, it’s simply not reliable enough. Solar and wind generation are as fickle as the weather and are not responsive to consumer needs. California put too many eggs in one basket—a strategy that should be viewed as a cautionary tale. Experts have called the crisis a case study in “what not to do.”

We need a comprehensive fuel mix, including continued growth in renewable resources, but based in realities, including affordability to consumers, risk management, environmental impact, and reliability of supply. Today we depend more than ever on a reliable supply of electricity to power our homes and businesses, to keep us safe and secure. This is no time for risky experiments or wishful plans; now more than ever, we need a power grid we can depend on.

Matt Berry

Guest spot

Matt Berry is the CEO of Midwest Electric Inc., a distribution electric cooperative for 11,000 homes, farms, and businesses in seven west central Ohio counties. Reach him at

Matt Berry is the CEO of Midwest Electric Inc., a distribution electric cooperative for 11,000 homes, farms, and businesses in seven west central Ohio counties. Reach him at

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