BY CHUCK SODERBERG
In late February, The Des Moines Register’s editorial board published a reckless column calling for MidAmerican Energy and other Iowa electric utilities to abandon coal, “even if doing so also means taking some gambles on brownouts and blackouts, price volatility and newer technology.”
I’m here to tell you that Iowa’s locally owned electric cooperatives will never gamble on our responsibility to provide reliable and affordable service to member-consumers. Our mission to power lives and empower communities guides the decision-making of our elected co-op boards, not a newspaper’s editorial board.
Electricity has become an essential service in our lives. Your electric cooperative is committed to providing power around the clock for your elderly neighbor on a fixed income to the local ethanol plant and every other member in between. Your community relies on electricity to power critical services and the local economy, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly.
We’ve talked before in the pages of this magazine about how the transition to a renewable energy economy will take decades. Last summer’s generation shortfall warning from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) underscored the need for a diversified energy mix to ensure reliable electricity. And we all heard about the devastation that resulted from emergency blackouts during the February 2021 polar vortex crisis in Texas, as demand for electricity greatly exceeded supply.
Your electric cooperative uses an “all of the above” generation strategy to ensure the availability of power when you flip the light switch or turn the thermostat dial. Here are two realities we must work with in the electric industry today:
- Many renewable energy sources like wind and solar are intermittent; they don’t generate electricity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. Other generation sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear are dispatchable, which means we can turn them on and ramp up production when needed.
- Generally speaking, electricity must be simultaneously generated as it is consumed. This requires supply to be in constant balance with electric demand. We must be able to dispatch more electric generation quickly when needed, usually on very hot or very cold days as people increase the use of air conditioners or electric heat. Battery technology has yet to be developed that can adequately store electricity from intermittent sources on a utility-scale for a long range of time.
While we invest in battery technology advancements to make renewable sources more dispatchable for utility-scale, Iowa’s electric cooperatives continue to maintain a variety of generation sources to protect the reliability and affordability of your power. Electric co-ops are transitioning to more renewable sources of generation when it is feasible to do so.
And we will continue to advocate for an “all of the above” energy strategy with state and federal policymakers because we refuse to gamble reliability, affordability or the trust you place in us.
Chuck Soderberg is the executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.