Trump admin considers plan to bail out coal, nuclear plants

Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke at 2018 CPAC

Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke at 2018 CPAC

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president's action is due to a national security interest in securing the national power grid's resilience. "This fuel security is an essential element of national security".

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. Those plants are owned by some of the president's political allies in the coal industry. But a draft memo circulated earlier this week indicates the administration might order electric grid operators to buy their energy from struggling coal and nuclear plants. "I am encouraged by the president's actions to protect our nation from these plant closures and ensure coal power is available to address future weather, market, and cybersecurity challenges".

A "Strategic Electric Generation Reserve" would also be created under the order "to promote the national defense and maximize domestic energy supplies", the draft memo said.

"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".

Perry, under the auspices of the Trump White House, then switched tactics by proposing a new rule to require energy buyers to pay extra fees to coal and nuclear plants as a means of supporting the declining industry, but that requirement was quickly shot down by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who noted insufficient evidence to approve the extra fees. More than a dozen are expected to close this year, after a record high of 15 shuttered in 2015.

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

While the DoE draft memo is not yet official, the move is seen by Capitol Hill insiders as an indication that Trump advisors - particularly those representing the energy sector - are getting serious about doing whatever it takes to keep coal and nuclear power afloat in the country.

Robert Murray presented a proposal to Perry in March 2017, the month Perry took office.

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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.

In a recent appearance at a Washington Post event, FERC chairman Kevin McIntyre said that using the emergency powers was "perhaps not the most obvious fit".

PJM Interconnection has previously said it faces no immediate threat to reliability from recently announced nuclear retirements.

The National Mining Association says in a statement that it has not received details of the plan from the Department of Energy.

Essentially, that would force grid operators to buy coal or nuclear power even if other options like natural gas or renewable sources are cheaper.

Colstrip's two oldest units, 1 and 2, are slated to shut down by 2022 as part of a settlement agreement between the plant's owners and utility regulators in Washington state, where Colstrip sells most of its power. The justification for using the Defense Production Act would be that keeping unprofitable power plants running is a matter of national security until the two-year vulnerability study is complete. "This finality is why it is critically important to preserve the fuel security offered by nuclear plants under threat of premature closure", Korsnick said.

Among those arguing for federal action is Jeff Miller, a well-connected GOP fundraiser who has served as an adviser to Perry and other Republicans and ran Perry's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2016.

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