As COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, some electric companies may ask high-skilled workers to temporarily live on-site. Facing the real prospect of staffing shortages, power plants desperately need to keep their employees healthy and keep the lights on for the rest of the country.
The alternative — losing access to the electricity we take for granted to get through our day, especially now — is unthinkable. As we weather and emerge from this national crisis, our elected leaders must remember how critical affordable, reliable energy was to getting us through the coronavirus pandemic — and reject any policy proposals that would put that energy in jeopardy.
Electricity powers everything we touch. Think back to this morning: You turned off your alarm, turned on the lights, brushed your teeth with running water, took a warm shower, grabbed something for breakfast out of the fridge. You might have turned on some music or a podcast to listen to or scrolled through the (likely anxiety-inducing) news alerts on your phone.
As most of the country self-quarantines, it’s more apparent than ever how intimately entwined our lives are with the availability of electricity.
According to a 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, nearly a third of Americans had jobs that were possible to do from home — a number likely higher today as the internet economy has continued to grow, and companies have been forced to adapt to self-quarantine guidelines.
After literal millennia of the human race being subject to the arduous, dangerous work of subsistence living, it should be shocking that so many of us can carry on our routines in the midst of the coronavirus, relatively uninterrupted. Most of us can still get our work done, keep our food cold and our homes comfortable, and order necessities online. Even for those of us whose jobs prevent remote work, those jobs still depend on efficient communication and supply chain operations made possible by the Internet.
For the health care industry, electricity is literally a life-or-death matter.
When Venezuela endured a weeks-long power outage in 2019, over 40 people died in — some because traumatic injuries or illnesses couldn’t be properly treated, but many because they missed simple routine procedures like dialysis. One woman described it as a “return to the Middle Ages.”
Imagine what hospitals losing power in the United States would look like — both for COVID-19 and for patients depending on regular medical care to stay alive.
The men and women working in health care today are selflessly placing their own well-being at risk to give us all access to the advanced medical care we so often take for granted, just like the energy that powers it. The advancements in medical science over decades have been fueled by electricity, making experimentation and innovation possible and powering the sophisticated equipment many of us rely on — from machines as complex as the world’s first portable MRI to simple respirator masks and gloves.
Though we tend not to think much about it unless our smartphones are running low on juice, electricity is literally a lifesaver.
Willfully (or ignorantly) jeopardizing the American people’s access to electricity would be a devastating blow to not only our comfort, but also to our lives.
Before the coronavirus began consuming news cycles, it would have been easy to believe that the Green New Deal and the various anti-fossil fuel proposals born out of it were the obvious next step for America. But COVID-19 should make the paramount importance of affordable, reliable electricity clearer than ever. Without it, none of us could do our jobs, and this new disease would have killed far more of our parents, children, brothers, friends.
Whatever your thoughts on climate change, the indisputable fact remains that wind and solar power are inherently intermittent — in layman’s terms, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine — requiring massive backup power, risking unreliable power, and dramatically increasing the cost of electricity. This harms the poorest and most vulnerable among us the most and puts our health in direct jeopardy.
While the potential future costs of climate change are nebulous, difficult to estimate, and far into the future, the costs of losing access to energy are severe and immediate.
After the coronavirus subsides, our national priorities when it comes to energy must change.
Our elected leaders should forcefully oppose any policy — from the CLEAN Future Act in Congress to the local climate plans being considered in city halls across the country — that weakens the reliability of our electric grid or raises the cost of electricity for any reason.
This commentary originally appeared in RealClearEnergy on April 1, 2020.