Friday, 20 July, 2018

Trump orders Energy Department to help ailing coal, nuclear plants

Michael Brochstein via ZUMA Michael Brochstein via ZUMA
Theresa Hayes | 03 June, 2018, 15:30

"Unfortunately, impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation's energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid", White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement about the measure.

The statement from the White House didn't detail how the government would work to keep plants open.

"Too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement", only to be replaced by less-secure, less-resilient natural gas and renewable power sources, the memo said.

The Trump administration has been preparing to invoke emergency powers granted under Cold War-era legislation to order regional grid operators to buy electricity from ailing coal and nuclear power plants.

The draft plan calls for the Energy Department to exercise emergency authority under a pair of federal laws typically reserved for wars or natural disasters.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a major coal-mining state, on Friday praised Trump for carrying out what he said was his idea: "I am glad President Trump and his Administration are considering my idea to use the Defense Production Act to save coal-fired power plants with emissions controls and protect our national security", Manchin said.

Depending on what the Trump administration decides, an intervention to prop up unprofitable coal and nuclear plants could cost consumers between $311 million to $11.8 billion per year, according to a preliminary estimate by Robbie Orvis, director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation.

Administration officials are still weighing the best approach, and Sanders did not describe any specific plan on Friday.

Over dozens of pages, the memo makes the case for action, arguing that the decommissioning of power plants must be managed for national security reasons and that federal intervention is necessary before the US reaches a tipping point in the loss of essential, secure electric generation resources.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, unanimously rejected an earlier proposal by the Energy Department that would have favored coal and nuclear plants.

"Orderly power plant retirements do not constitute an emergency for our electric grid", said Amy Farrell, vice president of the American Wind Energy Association.

Analysts said the new plan would face numerous legal and political challenges before it could get implemented.

Over the two years in question, DoE officials would ostensibly research U.S. power grid network vulnerabilities, using the study as a justification to keep unprofitable and polluting power plants running as a matter of national security, according to Bloomberg.

"Litigation would begin nearly immediately", she said. That plea followed the Akron, Ohio-based company's announcement to shut three nuclear power plants that feed the grid operated by PJM Interconnection LLC, the largest in the country.