MINOT, N.D. — Those who are eager for the demise of fossil fuel energy will tell you that the decline of coal-fired electricity is due to market conditions.
This is a lie. Heavy production subsidies provided by the federal government, combined with additional subsidies and mandates at the state level, have distorted the market egregiously in the direction of power sources like wind and solar.
Politicians picking winners for political reasons is not how markets operate.
Now the feds are angling to distort the market further. The Biden administration is proposing an "investment" of $10 billion into electrical cooperatives that agree to move away from coal.
Again, that's not how markets work.
In fact, one might call that sort of thing bribery.
The "it's the markets" crowd wants us to believe that coal is in decline because it doesn't as well as renewables, but if that's true, why would the federal government have to spend billions bribing utilities to give up on coal?
Could North Dakota's electrical cooperatives take the bait? Even after the Legislature made an extraordinary commitment supporting the state's coal industry and workers earlier this year?
A grassroots group made up of coal industry workers is convinced it may happen:
I've been hearing rumors about one utility, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, accepting the federal money to move away from coal. Joan Dietz, the utility's manager of communications, told me the company has not agreed to accept any money. "We believe in an all of the above energy strategy," she told me, though she did add that a member company in Colorado, operating in what she described as a "different environment," had opted to close down some coal-fired power plants.
This is something North Dakotans should be paying attention to.
Utility prices are spiking. Grid reliability has become an issue, as the blackouts earlier this year showed us. At a recent hearing put on by the North Dakota Public Service Commission, a spokesperson for one grid operator admitted that they haven't been speaking up about the reliability of the power being added to the grid.
If we truly had a market-driven evolution happening on our power grids, we wouldn't be having these problems.
But that's not what we have.
Instead, we have change being driven by politics. Lobbyists and politicians and activists are picking our path forward, and they may well be charting a path that leads to a cliff.
A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed to Dietz a statement that Basin cooperative member company in Colorado had accepted federal funds. Dietz clarified that this company has publicly communicated that they will be shutting down coal-fired plants, but not that they had collected funds. The column has been modified to reflect this correction.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.