Trump energy plan would prop up failing coal and nuclear plants

Trump administration planning to command grid operators to buy coal from sagging plants

The White House-sponsored DoE memo reportedly states that "too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement", while declaring that the replacement of coal and nuclear plants by natural gas and renewable power in the USA is not secure.

"Federal action is necessary to stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity", says a 41-page draft memo circulated before a National Security Council meeting on the subject Friday.

Manchin said Friday he is glad Trump is considering his idea to support coal-fired and nuclear plants under the Defense Production Act.

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.

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.

Gas-fired power generators are more vulnerable to cyber attacks than coal plants and nukes because gas must be delivered from remote fields via pipelines, according a draft report by the department.

The Energy Department action, if ordered, would represent an unprecedented intervention into US energy markets. It relies on authorities given to the executive branch in the Defense Production Act of 1950 and the Federal Power Act.

"Our nation must recognize the important role that coal and other traditional power sources play in rules created to make the national energy infrastructure stable and resilient".

Impending retirements of coal-fired and nuclear power plants are harming the nation's electric grid and reducing its resilience, and the president wants immediate action "to stop the loss of these resources", Sanders said.

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"There has been no change in our plan to cease coal-fired operations in 2020", PGE spokesman Steve Corson said Friday afternoon.

The Energy Department would be relying partly on the Federal Power Act - the so-called Section 202 authority - that lets the administration order guaranteed profits for power plants that can store large amounts of fuel on site.

The shale gas boom and inexorable rise of wind and solar power are indeed having a profound impact on the United States electricity system, with natural gas recently edging out coal as the largest source of USA power generation.

The memo envisions requiring electricity purchases from coal and nuclear sources for a two-year period, which the Energy Department would use to study shortcomings in the USA electricity system.

President Donald Trump has promised, time and time again, to bring back coal. NETL went on to conclude that, "In the case of PJM, it can also be shown that the demand could not have been met without coal".

Some coal and power companies have lobbied the administration to invoke the measure, known as a 202 (c), and Trump has picked up on the term, telling coal miners on a recent trip to West Virginia that "we'll be looking at that 202".

Charles Jones, CEO of the Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy, said preserving coal and nuclear plants "is the right thing to do for the industry, the electric grid and our customers".

"With coal and nuclear plants already closing at alarming rates, the reliability of America's electric grid is at risk", he said.

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