In its recent annual electricity report, the International Energy Agency found that U.S. electricity demand is likely to grow in the next three years. It projects a growth of about 2.5% in 2024, with smaller gains of about 1% in 2025 and 2026. As demand rises, following a valley in 2023 due to milder weather, it will be important to maintain grid reliability accordingly. 

This growth of demand is attributed to electrification spurred on by subsidies from the Inflation Reduction Act and other recent legislation. Demand will also come from the building sector and from the proliferation of data centers. As demand growth continues, it’s essential that both supply and reliability keep pace. Even modest increases in electricity demand become difficult to handle coinciding with policies and administrative decisions that make reliable power production more difficult. 

Two energy rules from the Biden administration stand out because of the difficulties that they create for reliable electric generation.

First is the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed power plant rule, which would close a large number of coal and natural gas plants in the next decade. The rule pushes some gas and all coal plants toward closure in the 2030s if technologically infeasible emissions standards were not met through as of yet unproven means. This would have significant impacts on supply, especially because coal and natural gas are among the grid’s most reliable generators. 

This action comes at a time when reliable generation is at a premium, and the grid is already vulnerable in many areas of the country. 

In their comments on the power plant rule, the Joint ISOs/RTOs, an organization of grid operators, said that they were “concerned that the Proposed Rule could result in material, adverse impacts to the reliability of the power grid.” 

A second rulemaking of concern involves the continued licensure of existing nuclear power plants. 

Following pressure from anti-nuclear groups, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pursued a rule creating an additional process for nuclear plants to receive their subsequent license renewals to cover years 60 to 80 of their operations. This is especially important given that 90% of currently operating nuclear plants intend to seek these types of licenses in the coming years. 

As an increasing number of our nation’s reactors reach this stage, it’s imperative they are able to receive these subsequent license renewals. For now, they won’t receive them except in a piecemeal fashion until the NRC finishes its rulemaking process and provides clarity to plant operators seeking to extend these licenses. 

The rulemaking process here has been incredibly slow and fraught with problems, including the cancellation of already issued subsequent licenses at two different plants. This provides uncertainty for plant operators, making it more difficult to keep their facilities online and generating power long-term. 

Given that nuclear power is one of the most reliable sources of clean electricity, these unwarranted regulatory obstacles for nuclear power are especially concerning. In the U.S., nuclear power has an average capacity factor of 92%. This measure of reliability tracks the percentage of the time that plants are producing electricity at their expected capacity. Nuclear ranks higher than any other source, especially far above wind and solar. Unduly hindering nuclear, which is so reliable, does not bode well for the grid.

Overall, meeting electricity demand in the coming years hinges on the stewardship of existing power plants and avoiding wide, sweeping rulemakings that will affect reliable generating capacity. A reliable electric grid is essential to a functioning society as a whole, and we undermine it at our peril.