Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Trump orders Energy Dept. to halt shutdown of coal, nuclear plants

Coal and nuclear plants would receive a lifeline under the DOE's new proposed order Coal and nuclear plants would receive a lifeline under the DOE's new proposed order
Frank Williams | 04 June, 2018, 00:29

Coal-fired and nuclear power plants continue to do a lot of the heavy lifting when the bulk power system is put to the test. It relies on authorities given to the executive branch in the Defense Production Act of 1950 and the Federal Power Act.

The memo added that "federal action is necessary to stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity".

The agency also is making plans to establish a "Strategic Electric Generation Reserve" with the aim of promoting the national defense and maximizing domestic energy supplies. The National Coal Council said in a statement Friday that existing coal facilities provide "direct economic benefits, energy and price stability, job-creating opportunities and environmental benefits".

According to the draft memo, the Energy Department would exercise its emergency authority to order grid operators to give preference to plants "that have a secure on-site fuel supply" and which "are essential to support the Nation's defense facilities, critical energy infrastructure, and other critical infrastructure".

"Cleaner, cheaper power is abundant, and new energy technologies like wind, solar, and other distributed energy make the grid safer from attack".

President Donald Trump wants to stop coal and nuclear power plants from closing.

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The draft memo laying out the directive doesn't give a specific amount operators would have to spend but says it will be enough to keep the facilities open for the next two years, saying that USA national security "relies on a robust US domestic industrial base, of which the coal, nuclear, and oil and natural gas industries are critical strategic components". The owner of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant has said its plant has been unprofitable for six years. "There is no need for any such drastic action".

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, coal consumption has fallen about 20 percent compared to a year ago, from about 149,200,000 short tons in the first two months of 2017 to just under 119,600,000 short tons in the first two months of 2018.

"Unprecedented government intervention in the energy markets to support high-cost generation will hurt customers by taking more money out of their pockets rather than letting people keep more of what they earn", said Todd Snitchler of the American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry. "We urge policymakers to again block this ill-advised effort to keep plants running that most electric utilities have already chose to abandon - and for good reason".

The independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a similar request by Perry in January, saying in a unanimous decision that there's no evidence that past or planned retirements of coal-fired power plants pose a threat to grid reliability. The Federal Power Act, which ensures a reliable power supply after sudden emergencies, is not meant to insulate uneconomic power plants from market forces.

Invoking national security concerns could bolster the Trump administration's case in any legal challenges over the intervention, said Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard University.

Environmental groups, natural gas producers and Republicans and Democrats who have pushed for greater competition in electricity markets all condemned the latest signal that the administration might be moving closer to imposing the Energy Department's plan.

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