My fellow citizens need to know what “Sherborn Power Choice” currently proposed by the Town means for our community.
Electricity is the only commodity for which supply must be matched to demand every second. The way that the modern grid achieves this is by continually adjusting the power of the inputs to maintain grid energy within a very narrow tolerance. This is one of the great engineering achievements of our time.
Gas, oil, coal, nuclear, biomass, and hydroelectric power can be tuned, to varying degrees, to the demands of the community, and thus are reliable sources of power for the critical functions we have entrusted to our electric grid. When an unreliable input is added to the grid, whether it be from wind or solar, it arrives at an essentially random schedule, depending on weather, time of day, and time of year, and not according to our needs.
Through the deceptive efforts of “MassPowerChoice, LLC” we are being asked whether we want to increase the amount of unreliable, less affordable, energy in our grid. Of course they do not use those words. To enact this would be a very expensive, damaging mistake.
These unreliable inputs force the reliable producers to throttle their production up and down to maintain the grid at an energy level that matches demand. Unreliable producers force the reliable producers to absorb the added costs of randomly variable inputs to the grid. Unreliable producers are parasitic on grid infrastructure, making the reliable sources less efficient, just as your car is less efficient in stop-and-go traffic than on the open highway. As the fraction of unreliable energy increases, it rapidly becomes unsustainable, and grid stability is lost. The result is unreliability of the grid as a whole. These added costs also take resources away from transmission line maintenance and protection, further increasing blackouts.
To add insult to injury, ratepayers are forced to pay for unreliable power at the same rate as we pay for reliable power. That would be like forcing a restaurant owner to pay the same wage to a worker who arrived and left whenever they felt like it, without regard to how busy the restaurant was, even if it meant sending a reliable worker home mid-shift, because there was a temporary surplus. No other industry forces unreliable work to be compensated as if it were reliably responsive to demand. Increasing the fraction of energy from wind and solar on the grid has increased the overall unsubsidized cost of electricity to consumers, and decreased reliability in every city, state, and country where it has been done at scale.
Until wind and solar energy producers become reliable, and produce energy according to human needs, and not the vagaries of the weather, they should be used only where they are used best, in off-grid applications. To the extent that Sherborn opts to increase the use of unreliable power sources that parasitize grid reliability, we will see increased costs and decreased reliability, as has been demonstrated everywhere wind and solar constitute more than about 15% of the total grid energy. Furthermore, outages will increase at the very times when we need reliability the most, when it is cold, dark, and the weather is inclement.
For the relatively affluent and resilient people of Sherborn, the added costs and risks might seem worth the symbolism of claiming “clean” power, but there are more vulnerable people among us who face serious consequences from a higher bill, or a few days without electricity in Winter.
It is easy for people who are ignorant of just how the marvel of a reliable grid is achieved to feel good about including seemingly “free” energy from the wind and sun. Given the way we are inundated with dishonest accountings of their true costs, this is understandable. There are certainly places where they should be used. But as part of a grid where the priority is reliability first, and affordability second, the less these unreliable sources pollute and parasitize the reliability of our grid, the better.
Peter C. Everett, MD
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