New Polling Shows Americans Concerned with Electricity Reliability And Affordability

Americans have identified reliability and affordability as top energy priorities, and are increasingly concerned about the potential impact on both from renewable-only energy policies, according to a new poll published by Morning Consult and conducted on behalf of the Electric Power Supply Association.

Approximately half of the 2,205 respondents say their reliability unease has grown since last year, and three in four are afraid their bills will increase in the months ahead.

A Reliability Problem

Diving in deeper on reliability, the poll shows that growing concerns over reliability stem from two key issues: early retirements without adequate supply creating a gap in available electricity and a renewable-only grid not being able to meet higher peak demand.

  • Two-thirds of respondents were concerned about potential power outages this summer, with nearly 70 percent saying they’re concerned about power plants retiring without adequate replacement.
  • More than one-third of respondents expect the transition to low-emitting sources to make power outages more likely.

Further, respondents were split about 50/50 on whether the technology to support a 100 percent renewable energy system currently exists.

The concerns are legitimized by NERC’s 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment which warns that two-thirds of North America is at high risk of energy shortages if power demand exceeds regular summer peaks due to the premature retirement of firm-generating capacity.

American’s concerns about reliability could be reduced by ensuring natural gas remains an integral component of the grid in the years ahead. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory study in 2022 deemed natural gas the most reliable and cost-effective method to fill the gaps generated by intermittent renewables, and NERC put it in plain terms in their 2021 Long-term Reliability Assessment:

 “Natural gas is the reliability ‘fuel that keeps the lights on,’ and natural gas policy must reflect this reality.”

Because the reality is that just adding intermittent renewables to the energy mix isn’t a one-to-one exchange of power when compared to firm capacity, like natural gas. According to NERC’s reliability assessment, even Texas, which has seen an 8 percent growth in natural gas power generation and 4GW of solar deployment – enough to power 3 million homes – is still under threat from extended periods of demand, and a growing peak energy demand as a result of economic growth.  Without policies that plan for increased natural gas use to meet the demand from population and GDP growth, grid reliability will remain questionable.

California grid operators understood this when they delayed the retirement – for the second time – of three natural gas along the coast, the first time being immediately after the state experienced the first rolling blackouts in decades because of a lack of natural gas generation and high temperatures.

Affordability  Concerns

Affordability (36 percent) is the second most important concern by adults surveyed coming in only 11 percent behind reliability’s ranking (47 percent). And it will likely increase as the Energy Information Administration forecasts residential consumption of electricity to increase between 15 and 22 percent through 2050 in their Annual Energy Outlook 2023.

Concerns towards higher electricity prices have been growing over the last two years, with a 2.5 percent increase between 2021 and 2022 when accounting for inflation. 78 percent of respondents across all demographic groups are concerned about the potential for their electricity bill to increase in the months ahead.

While adults surveyed are looking for policymakers to ensure prices remain low throughout the energy transition, it is clear that the policy over the last two years has been to restrict domestic oil and natural gas development, partially contributing to the higher prices.

The impact of this decision isn’t just felt directly in electricity prices, but in the cost of consumer goods across the economy. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, “as a rule of thumb, every $10 per barrel increase in the price of crude oil raises inflation by 0.2 percent and sets back economic growth 0.1 percent.”

Having an abundant supply of domestic energy is an important factor in limiting price fluctuations both locally and globally.

Bottom Line: Residents have seen increased warnings from their energy providers about the risks of blackouts during periods of high demand and are afraid of an energy transition that ignores firm generating capacity necessary to helping the lights stay on. Their reliability concern is followed by their desire for affordable electricity, which is being limited with restrictions on upstream oil and natural gas development.

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