Archived Story

David Mann: Proposed brownouts: The American energy crisis

Published 8:42am Thursday, June 27, 2013

By David Mann, Niles City Council

Recently, the city council received a memo stating that AEP/I&M is asking cities to begin planning for possible reductions in power supplies.  These reductions could result in brownouts or blackouts in this area due to a limited power supply triggered, in a large part, due to the shutdown of coal power plants in this area of the country, a decision made by the Environmental Protection Agency. In May of this year, the Daily Caller reported the EPA was set to shut down more than 280 coal-fired units. Unfortunately, this effort to curtail coal pollution has not been matched with proposed plans for new power plants that actually work.
Cities are large consumers of power.  One component of the plan to avoid possible citywide brownouts or blackouts is to move all city buildings onto standby generators during periods of low power availability.  The City of Niles is evaluating the feasibility of doing this.  Currently, this possible issue is at the planning phase with AEP/I&M estimating sufficient power supplies for the coming year.
I am a big believer in renewable energy, but we are not yet at a place where wind, water and solar power are inexpensive and reliable enough to fill this nation’s energy needs. Renewable energy, in 2009, produced an estimated 3.6 percent of the nation’s electrical supply; not including hydroelectric power which produced 6.9 percent of the nation’s electricity. That is a combined total of 10.5 percent. The remaining power comes from nuclear (20.3 percent), natural gas (23.4 percent), and coal (44.9 percent). Petroleum is a distant competitor at 1 percent. Natural gas is cleaner than coal while nuclear power is the cleanest of the big three sources of power in the United States today. The need for power will only increase as more electrical cars hit the roads in coming years in less expensive forms, making this situation urgent.
We need to continue to invest in renewable energy and nuclear power. Nuclear power is by far a clean and efficient way to produce power in the 21st century. Disasters are relatively rare in the United States, with Three Mile Island being the only major incident that ended up having a very low health risk.  Of course this does not preclude, or replace, the necessity to continue to search for new methods of generating power but it does mean that we need to look realistically at the world we live in.
What will this mean for you?
If the AEP does indeed have to start rationing energy, brownouts — when less voltage is flowing to homes — and blackouts —total power loss — may become more and more common throughout the Midwest.
Brownouts can cause damage to expensive electrical equipment so it is important to buy power strips that protect against power surges and brownouts.
Energy is an important discussion to have and will continue on indefinitely as we seek better options to produce power.
As always, I invite you to email me at dmann@niles.org with your thoughts about energy or anything else I can help you with.

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