Coal and Nuclear Generators are Still Seeking Federal Help

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s January denial of an Department of Energy (DOE) request that FERC ensure grid reliability by propping up coal and nuclear generating plants did not end industry attempts to obtain assistance from the Trump administration. FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based utility that serves 6 million customers, made an emergency request last week to the Department of Energy (“DOE”) following its announcement that a subsidiary would close three nuclear plants. The company has asked that DOE order PJM, the Regional Transmission Organization that manages the grid in 13 states and Washington D.C., to compensate FirstEnergy for the “full benefits” that its coal and nuclear plants provide.

Under Federal Power Act section 202(c), the Secretary may, in an emergency, “order temporary connections of facilities, and generation, delivery, interchange, or transmission of electricity as the Secretary determines will best meet the emergency and serve the public interest.” Secretary Perry has invoked such orders twice, both times to support coal plants.

To support its request, the FirstEnergy letter uses evidence from a recent National Energy Technology Laboratory study on energy utilization during this winter’s “bomb cyclone” in the Northeast. One of the takeaways from the NETL study was that coal is “the most resilient form of generation” and renewables underperformed as demand increased during the storm, giving rise to the conclusion that retirement of coal and nuclear plants could lead to reliability issues. This blog post, by NRDC’s John Moore, contends that he NETL study relies on a flawed metric, that counting expensive, typically-offline coal and nuclear plants as “more resilient” because they were put online during a weather event leads to a the wrong conclusion. And NETL ignores that an overwhelming majority of grid disruptions result from distribution problems, not fuel supply issues.

In a response letter to Secretary Perry, PJM argued that there is no emergency under the meaning of Section 202(c), and noted that most of the announced closures pertained to plants that would remain operational until 2021.  According to PJM, there is no immediate threat to system reliability from FirstEnergy closures. PJM had previously found that the grid performed reliably during the cold winter weather.

Obviously, PJM is an interested party, since it (and its customers) will pay if DOE grants FirstEnergy’s request. But the broad trend has been toward evidence that supports the idea that grid resilience has not been harmed by the growth of renewables. For example, an Amicus Brief, submitted in support of the Clean Power Plan by Emmett Institute members repeatedly and strongly makes this point. Evidence gathered since then has only buttressed the arguments made in that Brief. Although the Trump Administration has a stated interest in aiding the coal and nuclear industries, and resilience in the face of plant closures is an issue to address, this may neither be either an emergency under FPA 202(c), nor the threat to resiliency that FirstEnergy describes. As stated by FERC in its January 8th refusal to prop up coal and nuclear, “the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Coal and Nuclear Generators are Still Seeking Federal Help”

    1. Of course BQRQ proudly defends what is likely the most corrupt administration in modern history.

      Ex-Bush ethics lawyer confronts Hugh Hewitt over Pruitt ethics: ‘This is corruption’

      From the article:

      “Find me a hotel room in Washington, D.C. for $50 a night and tell me that’s not a gift from a lobbyist,” said Painter, who frequently appears on television to criticize members of the Trump administration. “This is disgusting and no decent ethics lawyer would sign off on that. If that had happened in the Bush administration, I would have shut it down in a minute.”

      “Fifty dollars a night to get a room in Washington, D.C.,” he continued. “You know — we all know that is a violation of the gift rules, and no ethics lawyer could cover that up. It’s just flat-out wrong.”

      http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/381392-ex-bush-ethics-lawyer-confronts-hugh-hewitt-over-pruitt-ethics-this

      Who gave the head of the EPA such an extraordinary deal on housing? Why a powerful lobbyist couple for the energy industry. It turns out that Trump and his people are the swamp.

      Politico:

      White House lets Pruitt dangle

      From the article:

      President Donald Trump and his chief of staff may be telling Scott Pruitt they have his back, but other White House officials are making it clear that the EPA leader’s future in the administration is still very much in doubt.

      It was a familiar mixed message for anyone following the daily soap opera in the White House, where even public expressions of confidence in an embattled official can’t guarantee the person won’t be fired in a matter of days — or hours. It’s even true for an agency chief like Pruitt, who took another huge step Tuesday toward fulfilling Trump’s pledge to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations.

      “The notion of calls backing him up, etc., is good PR for a very frustrating situation,” said one person close to the White House, responding to reports that Trump and chief of staff John Kelly had reassured Pruitt in separate phone calls over the last 24 hours.

      According to records provided to the House Oversight Committee and obtained by POLITICO last month, Pruitt’s propensity for expensive travel resulted in a bill of over $105,000 spent on first-class flights in his first year on the job. An additional $58,000 went to charter flights and a military jet used to transport him from an event with Trump to catch a connecting light in New York.

      EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s 2017 travels, and a senior administration official has said White House aides expect its conclusions to be damning.

      www dot politico dot com/story/2018/04/03/trump-and-kelly-phone-pruitt-as-damaging-reports-pile-up-498328

      (This site only allows one link per comment so replace “dot” with a . to decode the one above.)

        1. In other news, man caught with smoking gun claims he is innocent.

          It is no surprise that an energy lobbyist giving the head of the EPA an extraordinary deal on housing raises no red flags for BQRQ. It seems corruption is okay to him as long as you are on his side.

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Nathaniel Logar is an Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law for 2017-2019. He previously clerked for the Honorable Eric A. Aarseth f…

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