Trump administration taking steps to save coal plants; effect on Colstrip unclear

The Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lower Alloways Creek Township N.J. shown in 2011

The Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lower Alloways Creek Township N.J. shown in 2011

Under the purported banner of national security, Energy Secretary Rick Perry appears again to have heeded the self-described "desperate" calls of coal baron Robert Murray in order to prop up dying coal and nuclear plants.

"President Trump believes in total energy independence and dominance, and that keeping America's energy grid and infrastructure strong and secure protects our national security, public safety and economy from intentional attacks and natural disasters", the White House said.

Citing national security concerns, US President Donald Trump's administration is working on a fresh plan to subsidize coal and nuclear plants, a move critics say is unnecessary and will drive up energy costs.

"Uneconomic, dirty coal plants retiring does not represent a national security risk", Environmental Defense Fund director of federal energy policy and senior attorney Michael Panfil wrote on his blog.

The White House is planning to issue a directive to the Department of Energy (DOE) that forces the agency to require electricity grid operators to buy power or capacity from uneconomical power plants for two years, according to news reports.

During that time, the DOE would conduct a study of vulnerabilities in the U.S. power grid system.

While many of President Trump's top donors advocate for the support of struggling coal-fired power plants, it is unclear as to whether or not Trump has signed off on the plan.

"Such powers have been invoked in very limited instances", according to Rabeha Kamaluddin, energy lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney, "and in those instances, "emergencies" have pertained to natural disasters, hurricanes, and major blackouts; events that hit at the core of grid reliability and power supply".

Coal and nuclear plants are in trouble because across much of the country they're having trouble competing with cheaper forms of electricity generated by natural gas and renewable energy. "This finality is why it is critically important to preserve the fuel security offered by nuclear plants under threat of premature closure", Korsnick said. "The Defense Production Act grants the president the authority to ensure that the nation's domestic industrial base is capable of providing the essential materials and resources needed to defend our nation and protect our sovereignty, and it recognizes energy production and critical infrastructure as strategic and crucial to that goal".

"Earthjustice will continue to fight the Trump Administration's destructive and illegal coal bailouts every with every legal tool available".

LARGE SWATH OF ENERGY INDUSTRY OPPOSES DOE INTERVENTIONBut the use of either statute to prevent coal and nuclear retirements has been looked at with skepticism by Washington insiders and been blasted by most of the power sector outside of those with coal and nuclear interests.

Soon after taking charge, new CIL chairperson Anil Kumar Jha said that the Power Ministry had set a daily supply level to ensure that every thermal power plant was carrying 22 days consumption of coal - the normative stock as laid down in standard operating procedures.

"Any federal intervention in the market to order customers to buy electricity from specific power plants would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers", it added.

But federal energy regulators have rejected that argument and turned down a proposal late previous year from Perry to subsidize nuclear and coal plants for providing "resilience" to the grid.

That auction saw an 83% hike in the price generators will receive, and cleared a diverse mix of coal, nuclear, gas, renewable and other sources, PJM said.

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