January 21, 2019

Trump orders Perry to take 'immediate steps' to stop coal plant closures

04 June 2018, 12:26 | Ross Houston

Trump orders Perry to take 'immediate steps' to stop coal plant closures

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

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In a rare move, the Trump administration confirmed Friday that it will take "immediate steps" to prevent coal and nuclear power facilities in the USA from closing.

"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", the White House said in a statement.

In a sign that the US Department of Energy's plan to throw a lifeline to struggling coal and nuclear power plants could be advancing, the National Security Council was expected to discuss the matter at a Friday meeting, according to a report.

Environmental groups decried the support for coal over cleaner energy sources, while energy industry groups warned that it could raise prices.

One likely plan, laid out in a 41-page draft memorandum posted online by Bloomberg News and Utility Dive, would favor certain power plants in the name of national security.

The move to mandate the purchase of electricity from old, uneconomic sources and guarantee revenue to the power plant owners has been described as an unprecedented intervention into energy markets.

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As renewable energy and natural gas has become very low-cost, some coal and nuclear plants can no longer compete economically and are retiring early unless heavy-handed intervention, such as what was just proposed by the Administration, comes to the "rescue". The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo.

According to another energy association, Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), the plan is "an exercise in crony capitalism taken exclusively for the benefit of a bankrupt power plant owner and its coal supplier", says Malcolm Woolf, AEE's senior vice president of policy. Both the US coal and nuclear power industries have been shrinking for years, under pressure from cheaper natural gas along with advances in solar and wind energy. A coalition of natural gas and renewable power advocates told Perry that "power plant retirements are a normal, healthy feature of electricity markets", and therefore there is no emergency that would justify Energy Department action.

"While we believe DOE has broad privileges to identify threats to national security, we are skeptical that (the order) entitles DOE to direct power market operators (.) to pay generators more based upon that threat", said Katie Bays, energy analyst at Height Capital Markets in Washington. "The reported proposal would be a misapplication of emergency powers; there's certainly no credible justification to force American taxpayers to bail out uneconomic power plants". The move by Trump is also in line with some of his top supporters, including coal moguls Robert E. Murray and Joseph Craft of Alliance Resource Partners, who donated a million dollars to the president's inauguration.

The Trump administration is moving to embrace two rarely used authorities under federal law to take the action, after weighing a broad array of strategies for preserving 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.

Federal action is necessary to stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity.

First Energy's top lobbyist a year ago was Jeff Miller, who was campaign manager for the presidential campaign of Perry, now energy secretary.

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