Meredith Angwin

Energy Analyst & Author

Shorting is Published!

Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid is published and available.  Shorting was published on October 19. I definitely need to do a catch-up post with some links to podcasts and so forth.  I have been on some great podcasts (the latest with Robert Bryce) and the book has had some excellent reviews posted at Amazon and Goodreads.

Meanwhile, you can buy Shorting on Amazon (Kindle and softcover and hardcover), Kobo (ebook), Walmart, Books A Million and more.  In the two weeks since its release on Amazon, the book has been the  #1 New Release in Oil and Energy Industry, Energy Policy, and Electric Energy.  You can also order the  book through your local bookstore, since it is distributed by Ingram Spark.

Thinking about elections

No, I’m not going to comment on the national elections. However, I felt this was a good time to put up a guest blog. The image above is the Vermont State House, because my guest blogger today is John McClaughry.  McClaughry is  a nuclear engineer, the founder of the free-market think tank, the Ethan Allen Institute, and a former Vermont State Senator. He gives a legislator’s viewpoint on Shorting the Grid.

The  Institute was the home for the Energy Education Project, which I headed when I was trying to save Vermont Yankee. McClaughry originally published this book review in the October edition of the Ethan Allen Institute newsetter.

Review of Shorting the Grid

EA Letter review October 2020

Meredith Angwin, Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of our Electric Grid, (Wilder VT: Carnot Communications, 2020) 369 pp

Meredith Angwin, originally a University of Chicago chemist, has had a long career in the electric power industry. For years she was a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, the industry’s cutting edge innovation center. More recently she has been much involved in the lengthy debate over the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Since its closing in 2014 she has focused her work on the New England power grid, on which she has become a leading expert. Meredith also managed the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project for four years.

In this third book from her pen Meredith explains how a power system composed of fuel production and transportation, generators, utilities, transmission companies, distribution companies, ratepayers, and regulators works to light up our homes when we flip a switch. This is an enormous undertaking, worthy of a year-long college course on that broad subject.

Meredith is thoroughly knowledgeable, immensely perceptive, and to her credit, compulsively fair minded to the various interests involved. That said, despite the clarity of her writing this is a challenging book. That’s because the subject matter is so complex, both from a physical standpoint and, more importantly, from a policy standpoint.

Some thirty years ago I served on the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, the only former nuclear engineer ever to do so. I daresay I had a better grip on energy issues than most if not all of my colleagues. Reading Shorting the Grid, I now realize how primitive our deliberations were back then, and I wonder if any of our 180 legislators today has even a tenuous grip on the many issues raised in this book. To look at their legislative output over the past decade, I seriously doubt it.

In her gentle but indefeasible way, Meredith dismantles and scraps many energy policy fetishes that prevail in Montpelier. Chief among them are the anti-nuclear baseload phobia, the passion for subsidizing wind and solar, the still-impossible dream of grid-scale battery storage, renewable portfolio standards, and net metering at retail, not wholesale, rates.

Thanks to these legislative obsessions (my term, not hers), plus a vast regulatory structure (PUCs, ISO-NE, NEPOOL, BA, FERC) that deliberately invites regulatory capture and defies accountability, plus a multiplicity of “stakeholders” constantly working to game the system, “grid meltdown is coming.”

Unlike California, where the same combination of ignorant advocacy produces summer-day rolling blackouts, New England’s blackouts will likely come in the dead of winter, for instance, when a Russian liquefied natural gas tanker can’t get into the Massachusetts terminal to deliver just-in-time fuel for the gas plants essential to back up erratic and intermittent renewables.

In her words, “To some extent, the California RTO is a poster child for how not to run a grid. California is closing down zero-emission nuclear plants, setting high requirements for widespread use of renewables, depending heavily on natural gas (no surprise there) and on imported electricity. California rates are far higher than they should be for a state with significant hydro power and in-state natural-gas supplies. But the California ISO is running out of California money.”

What can citizens do to spare us from the collapse of an increasingly fragile power grid? Meredith devotes a final chapter to mobilizing for constructive changes. Drawing on her experience influencing the Vermont Yankee debate, she lists forming citizen organizations, attending hearings, filing motions, and the like. I wish I could believe in that. My long experience tells me that the ”stakeholders” and their battalion of high priced lawyers like the Regulatory Assistance Project will always defeat a concerned citizen uprising, unless the target is something highly visible and objectionable, like wind turbines.

That said, Shorting the Grid is a very valuable –albeit challenging –book. It’s not likely to make the New York Times Best Seller List, but it will certainly prove to be the gold standard for anyone working to keep the lights on, who needs to know how electric power is produced, distributed, and priced. Hint to readers: first read the extensive Glossary.

– Reviewed by John McClaughry, VP EAI

The  image  of the State House is from wikipedia.