Fossil fuel proponents like to claim that coal and gas plants are essential for a reliable electric system. Recent news from Hurricane Florence provides yet another illustration that in fact distributed clean energy is far more resilient than polluting fossil fuels. As Idaho’s electric utilities plan for the future, we expect them to consider the facts and not double down on out-of-state fossil fuels.
Climate Change Fuels Strong Storms
Hurricane Florence ravaged the Carolinas with strong winds and heavy rainfall in September 2018. While the Gulf Coast and Southeast are no strangers to hurricanes, increasingly scientists find evidence that climate change is fueling bigger, more powerful storms. More specifically, warmer air and sea surfaces enable these storms to accumulate more moisture. As Florence made landfall, this increase in rainfall meant that most hurricane-related damage came from flooding instead of winds.
At ICL, our thoughts are with the people who lost friends, family and homes during this storm and others in Texas, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. We encourage you to support these communities.
Strong Winds Topple Transmission Lines
The fossil fuel dominated electricity system is especially vulnerable to damage from hurricanes. Puerto Rico is a key example. The island relied on large centralized fossil fueled power plants connected by miles of power lines. Hurricane-force winds caused most of these lines to topple, leaving the island without a functioning power grid for almost an entire year.
Because of the inherent risk of relying on long distance power lines, we are encouraged that the Puerto Rico Energy Commission is exploring ways to rebuild the system as a series of micro grids that use distributed generation like solar and connect local communities. Idaho should consider a similar solution to address the risk from wildfires to the long-distance transmission lines we rely on.
Solar Shines Through Hurricane Florence
When Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas, the heavy rainfall caused more damage than the winds. Flooding caused the utility to shut down coal and natural gas plants while toxic ash from coal plants eventually spilled into waterways. For more than two weeks after the storm, these fossil fuel plants remain offline due to remaining flooding and the resulting damage.
Meanwhile, North Carolina , which has seen a rapid growth in solar projects over the last year, had those solar plants up and running with only cursory damage within hours of the storm subsiding.
We Need a Clean Energy Future for Idaho
So the next time you hear someone say that we need fossil fueled power to keep the lights on, you know the truth. In fact, localized clean energy is far more resilient. As our Idaho utilities begin another twenty-year plan for the future, we expect them to consider the facts — Idaho’s current reliance on out-of-state fossil fuels is not only a drain on our economy, it is a terrible strategy for handling the growing risks of wildfires and other climate change-driven extreme weather.