“The electric grid is our more important piece of energy infrastructure,” says energy expert Robert Bryce. He also notes the early closure of important baseload plants “…and poor management by the RTOs [regional transmission organizations]. Congress must act, and act with all deliberate speed, to assure that the electricity that powers our economy stays affordable and that our grid is reliable and resilient.”

Robert Bryce

Bryce spoke late October at US Senate Government Operations & Border Management Subcommittee on the issue: Strategies for Improving Critical Energy Infrastructure.” 

Bryce is a Texas-based author, journalist, podcaster, film producer, and public speaker. His documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, produced along with Austin-based film director Tyson Culver, was released in mid-2020 and is on numerous streaming platforms.

People with strong viewpoints about our power system will have opinions about Bryce’s comments. His comments ought to be read, however. This is the kind of debate important to our energy future.

Bryce’s main message is about declining grid reliability. “There is no doubt that our electric grid is becoming less reliable. Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that in 2020, ‘the average American home endured more than eight hours without power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration – more than double the outage time five years ago,’” he said.

Bryce picks out California and Texas as examples. “In California, over the past two or three years, blackouts have become almost daily events. In Texas, the country’s biggest producer of oil, gas, and wind energy, the February blackouts caused by Winter Storm Uri cost some $200 billion and left about 700 people dead.”

The Department of Energy has reported that between 2000 and 2020, the number of what the agency calls “major electric disturbances and unusual occurrences” on our electric grid jumped 13-fold, according to Bryce.

The Carolinas are notable in this issue. Looking at US News and World Report rankings, North Carolina ranks #13 in overall infrastructure, South Carolina, #42. In energy, both states are middling in their ranks (right). The magazine says, “Energy represents one-third of the weight in ranking the Best States for infrastructure. This subcategory evaluates three major metrics: renewable energy usage, reliability of power grids and the average cost of electricity.”

Carolinas, there’s work to do.

South Carolina follows bizarre paths to maintain state control of a power company (and its debt) while yearning to enact the exact failed mechanism, an RTO, that Bryce points out has mismanaged power.

North Carolina has had lengthy energy debates, showing real division on energy issues. Policymakers ran up on the curbs for a while but finally got to a destination that is a basic consensus on energy for now. Wisely, the state seems to have gotten off the RTO thinking.

Policymakers need to get it together on behalf of citizens to – as Bryce says – “assure that the electricity that powers our economy stays affordable and that our grid is reliable and resilient.”