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Michael Bloomberg’s $1 Billion Assault on The Electric Grid
The media mogul wants to shutter all coal- and half of gas-fired generation by 2030. That’s 40% of U.S. electricity production.
Climate-related philanthropy in America has been hijacked by a radical agenda that will hurt the affordability, reliability, and resilience of the U.S. electric grid.
More proof of that hijacking came last month when mega-billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced that Bloomberg Philanthropies would give $500 million to the Beyond Carbon campaign. The goal of the effort is to shutter the bulk of our most important power plants — the ones that burn coal and natural gas and are therefore dispatchable and weather-resilient — and, in Bloomberg’s words, replace them with “renewable energy.”
The September 20 announcement quotes Bloomberg as saying the $500 million gift marks a “new chapter in the Beyond Carbon campaign, as we move to finish the job. By working with our partners across the country, we hope to transform the way we power America by moving beyond fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy.” The press release goes on to say the goal is to “shut down every last U.S. coal plant,” and “slash gas plant capacity in half, and block all new gas plants.”
A more radical agenda is difficult to conjure. The coal and gas plants that Bloomberg and his allies in the anti-industry industry want to shutter produced about 40% of all the electricity used in the U.S. last year. Here are the numbers: In 2022, according to the Statistical Review of World Energy, U.S. electricity generation totaled about 4,550 terawatt-hours (TWh). About 904 TWh came from coal-fired power plants, and 1,817 TWh was generated by burning natural gas. Thus, the Beyond Carbon campaign aims to eliminate about 1,813 TWh of dispatchable thermal generation from the U.S. electric grid and do so by 2030.
Put another way, the 1,813 TWh/year of electricity that Bloomberg wants to eliminate equals the combined annual electricity use of nine states: Texas, Florida, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, and Illinois.
The timing of Bloomberg’s announcement could scarcely be more tone-deaf. It comes in the wake of repeated warnings made this year by America’s top regulators, grid operators, and an industry association that our power grid is losing too much dispatchable generation capacity and is adding too much capacity that is dependent on the vagaries and whims of the weather. Indeed, Bloomberg announced the $500 million donation scarcely a month after the North American Electric Reliability Corporation warned that bad energy policy was a significant threat to the reliability of the U.S. electric grid. More on that in a moment.
The September 20 announcement brings Bloomberg’s total funding of the Beyond Carbon campaign to $1.05 billion. (In 2011, he gave the Sierra Club $50 million for its Beyond Coal campaign. In 2019, he announced a $500 million pledge to the Beyond Carbon campaign.) The new $500 million grant shows, yet again, that funding behind the $4.5 billion-per-year anti-industry industry dwarfs the funding for NGOs and associations that promote hydrocarbons and nuclear energy. Further, it shows that the anti-industry industry is collecting hundreds of millions of dollars per year from some of the world’s wealthiest people to fund climate policies that will impose regressive taxes on the poor and the middle class while weakening our most critical energy network, the electric grid.
The $500 million will, according to the press release, be parceled out to some of the richest climate NGOs in the country, including the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Earthjustice, all of which have operating budgets of more than $100 million per year. Other groups who will get cash from Bloomberg include the Hip Hop Caucus, Advanced Energy United, and Coalfield Development, who will all work “to accelerate efforts to end fossil fuels and turbocharge clean energy.”
The press release quoted Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, who said, “We look forward to finishing the fight to shut down fossil fuels and increase U.S. clean energy.” It also quotes Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, who claimed, “the tailwinds have never been stronger to realize the climate, health, and economic benefits of clean power.”
The press release does not define “clean energy” or “clean power.” Nor does it mention wind energy or solar energy. Nor is there any mention of the cleanest and safest form of power generation: nuclear energy.
Now, to the warnings about grid reliability. Over the past five months, top regulators and industry officials have repeatedly warned policymakers that the U.S. electric grid is on the verge of a reliability crisis. The looming crisis is due to the very things that Bloomberg and his well-heeled claqueurs are promoting: premature retirements of our dispatchable thermal power plants fueled by coal and natural gas and massive increases in the deployment of intermittent wind and solar resources.
In May, members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered stark warnings to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As I reported here on Substack, the agency’s acting chairman, Willie Phillips, told the senators, “We face unprecedented challenges to the reliability of our nation’s electric system.” FERC Commissioner Mark Christie echoed Phillips’ warning, saying the U.S. electric grid is “heading for a very catastrophic situation in terms of reliability.” Commissioner James Danly said there is a “looming reliability crisis in our electricity markets.” Danly continued, saying that federal subsidies “designed to promote the deployment of non-dispatchable wind and solar assets” are causing reliability issues because the subsidies are helping “drive fossil-fuel generators out of business.”
On August 8, four of the biggest regional transmission organizations in the country — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, PJM Interconnection, and Southwest Power Pool — filed a scathing joint comment on the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas rule on power plants. The four RTOs manage the bulk power system serving 154 million Americans. Their service territories cover about two million square miles. The RTOs warned that the proposed rule, which aims to slash CO2 emissions from thermal power plants, could hamstring generators by forcing them to use expensive, unproven technologies. The rule, they wrote, has the “potential to materially and adversely impact electric reliability.” They continued, noting the EPA’s rule:
Could well exacerbate the disturbing trend and growing risk wherein the pace of retirements of generation with attributes needed to ensure grid reliability is rapidly exceeding the commercialization of new resources capable of providing those reliability attributes...Although each region is working to facilitate a substantial increase in renewable generation, the challenges and risks to grid reliability associated with a diminishing amount of dispatchable generating capacity could be severely exacerbated if the Proposed Rule is adopted...As the penetration of renewable resources continues to increase, the grid will need to rely even more on generation capable of providing critical reliability attributes. With continued and potentially accelerated retirements of dispatchable generation, supply of these reliability attributes will dwindle to concerning levels.
As seen in the graphic above, on August 27, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation named “changing resource mix” as a top reliability risk on the grid. And for the first time, it named climate policy as one of the most significant risk factors. It said, “With the recent grid transformation, the resource mix is increasingly characterized as one that is sensitive to extreme, widespread, and long duration temperatures as well as wind and solar droughts.” It continued, saying:
The implementation of policy decisions can significantly affect the reliability and resilience of the [bulk power system]. Decarbonization, decentralization, and electrification have been active policy areas. Implementation of policies in these areas is accelerating, and, with changes in the resource mix, extreme weather events, and physical and cyber security challenges, reliability implications are emerging.
On September 12, America’s Power, a trade association that represents the companies that operate the fleet of coal-fired power plants, released a report done by Energy Ventures Analysis, which showed that coal and gas-fired power plants were critically important in keeping the air conditioners running during last August’s brutal heat wave. The report looked at SPP, MISO, and ERCOT, all of which had to rely heavily on thermal plants. For instance, it found that in SPP, “coal and natural gas generation increased by 35% and 40%, respectively,” during the heat wave, “while wind generation dropped by 21%.” The report concluded:
The August heatwave affecting the ERCOT, MISO, and SPP ISOs underscores the recurring reliance on incremental fossil generation to meet peak electricity demand during extreme weather events due to their dispatchability and independence from the weather (i.e., wind speeds or solar radiation). Given the challenges posed by the reduced reliability of renewable sources like wind and solar during extreme weather events, the U.S. electric power grid's resiliency during these events undeniably relies on the sustained contribution of coal and natural gas power plants.
Eight days after that report came out, Bloomberg announced his $500 million plan to shutter the very same coal and gas plants that helped avert blackouts during the blazing hot days in August.
Of course, Bloomberg can spend his vast fortune however he wants. According to Forbes, he’s the 11th-richest person on the planet, with assets worth $96.3 billion. (Bloomberg.com doesn’t include Michael Bloomberg in its rankings of the world’s richest people.) And the former mayor of New York City does not live modestly. As I noted in these pages in March, Bloomberg owns about a dozen houses. He’s also one of the biggest users of private jets. As I explained:
According to ClimateJets.org, Bloomberg, or people connected to him, used five aircraft which emitted about 3,197 tons of CO2 in 2022. That number puts Bloomberg in the top 10 of all private jet owners in terms of emissions. For comparison, the average American is responsible for about 16 tons of CO2 emissions per year. In other words, Bloomberg’s fleet of jets is emitting about 200 times more CO2 per year than what’s emitted by the average American.
Recall in announcing his $500 million grant to Beyond Carbon, Bloomberg claimed he wants to move “beyond fossil fuels” and replace them with renewable energy. Last year, Bloomberg, or people connected to him, flew on his private jets to New York, New Jersey, Florida, Bahamas, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Bermuda, Switzerland, France, Costa Rica, Brazil, Israel, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. All that flying required burning about 328,000 gallons of jet fuel. For comparison, that’s about 670 times more than the volume of gasoline consumed by an average American motorist in a year.
Also, recall that in 2021, Bloomberg said, “We’re in a race to save Earth from climate change.” It’s unclear to whom Bloomberg referred when he used the royal “we.”But given his predilection for far-flung houses and private jets, it seems that the media mogul and near-centibillionaire is a lot like the rest of us when it comes to using hydrocarbons.
It’s an attitude that reminds me of St. Augustine, who famously prayed, “O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.”
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