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McNair Center issues national energy report card

March 21, 2024

Natural gas and nuclear power lead the rest of the class in generating clean and affordable energy, according to a new national energy report card created by Northwood University in partnership with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“We ranked eight key energy industry sectors based on their ability to meet growing demand for affordable, reliable and clean electric generation,” explained co-author Dr. Timothy G. Nash, executive director of the McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood University.

Grading the Grid: A National Energy Report Card,” graded eight energy sectors based on capacity, reliability, environmental/human impact, technology/innovation and market feasibility.

The following were each sector’s final grades:

• Natural Gas — A

• Nuclear Power — B+

• Coal — B-

• Hydroelectric — B-

• Petroleum — C-

• Geothermal — D+

• Solar — F

• Wind — F

The methodology used in the rankings, along with complete details of each sector’s strengths and weaknesses, can be found in the 130-page report.

Many states, including Michigan, are moving toward a grid that primarily relies on wind and solar. But there are serious risks that should be considered. The report found that the hurried transition from affordable and reliable energy sources to weather-dependent and expensive renewable alternatives is threatening the reliability of the North American electric grid. Rushing this systemwide transition will create an increasingly unreliable grid, putting human lives and the economy at risk.

In contrast, “the reliability and affordability of fossil and nuclear fuels cannot be ignored.” Even grid managers have warned about the dangers of rushing to close down such sources. The authors acknowledge the environmental costs associated with fossil and nuclear fuels, but they explain how advances in technology allow those costs to be addressed in a way that helps protect the environment while still allowing people to benefit from their unparalleled reliability.

The report also examines some of the routinely ignored environmental impacts caused by solar and wind. While wind and solar do not emit carbon dioxide, there are substantial environmental hazards in the production of both energy sources and their battery backups. Both require critical minerals, many of which are mined and refined in countries like China and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where human rights violations against miners are common and environmental protections are limited.

Transitioning a service as important as the nation’s electric grid should not be taken lightly. Research overwhelmingly demonstrates the high environmental and economic costs of rushing the grid transition. Utility companies and lawmakers at both the state and federal level should prioritize clean, reliable and affordable energy sources.

“A functional grid is imperative for a healthy and productive society,” said co-author Jason Hayes, director of energy and environmental policy at the Mackinac Center. “It’s critical that we start prioritizing reliable energy sources like natural gas and nuclear to ensure that people aren’t left in the dark.” Read the full study here.

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