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Will we have the power we need in the future?

How will we supply the power we need to grow the economy while at the same time curbing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, blamed for contributing to climate change? In the 1960s and 1970s, the electric industry went through a period of expansion. For many years, the nation had excess base-load generation capacity. But with the economic and demographic growth of the intervening years, that excess capacity is gone.

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Here is a brief outlook on the energy landscape:

  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects electricity needs will grow nationally 1.0 percent a year from 2006 through 2020, for a 12 percent increase requiring 112,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity.
  • EIA estimates demand will grow 26 percent by 2030, requiring a total of 258,000 new megawatts unless extraordinary efficiency measures are adopted. This magnitude of increase is roughly analogous to adding four more Californias.
  • According to the LTRA, nearly 25,000 MW of coal generation is still slated for construction in the next ten years; however, the recent trend of cancellation and deferral of coal-fired plants casts doubt on many of these projects.

Demand for electricity is expected to increase 26 percent by 2030. At the same time, the cost of building new generation has skyrocketed while the funding to make capital investments has shrunk. These costs will be passed on to the consumer, making electric power less affordable for many Americans. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the organization charged with protecting reliability of the bulk power system, has warned that between now and 2015, some regions of the country may experience rolling black outs unless we build new generation capacity.