The letter “Oil Saves Lives” praises fossil fuels for keeping people alive during the recent polar vortex. As usual, the truth is more complicated than that.
On January 31, at the peak of the deep freeze, 23 percent of coal plants — nearly one in four — froze and stopped operating. Many gas plants stopped operations because their supplies were cut off, as often happens during times of peak usage, in order to conserve resources (in fact, this is a method companies use to maintain profits, but that’s another story). Thousands of Americans in the Midwest experienced power outages.
Coal, gas, and nuclear sources are known to freeze up during extreme cold. However, studies show that we have the technology to supply 80 percent of our power using solar, hydro, and wind. The storage of these technologies would more than balance our use of fossil fuels during periods of high demand. These technologies are commercially available and affordable throughout the U.S., and their cost has fallen sufficiently to be competitive with fossil fuels.
The fact is we are out of step with the rest of the world, with many countries in Europe on track to achieve 50 percent of their power supply from renewables by 2040. According to a study by BP (yes, that’s British Petroleum, of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill), renewable energy is on target to be the world’s main source of power within two decades and is increasing faster than any fuel in history.
Wake up! Relying on oil and coal is living in the past, like the dinosaurs from which these fuels derive. An integrated, resilient, and affordable grid of renewables is what the future looks like, and will help save lives.