Cold Snap Arrives at Key Moment for Coal, Nuclear Power

Via The Hill:

The coal and nuclear industries are pointing to the cold snap sweeping the eastern United States as Exhibit A for why the federal government should help their power plants.

Those industries and their allies hope that the record-setting winter weather will give a boost to a proposal from Energy Secretary Rick Perrythat would require electric grid operators to pay higher prices to coal and nuclear plants.

Prior to the cold snap, Perry and other supporters of the idea had cited the 2014 polar vortex as a key argument for propping up unprofitable plants that are under pressure to close. At that time, power grids in the Northeast were strained due to plants unexpectedly closing and natural gas prices spiking, lead to some power outages.

Despite that freeze four years ago, Perry’s proposal is facing considerable opposition.

Natural gas and renewable energy companies, conservative think tanks, environmentalists and others argue that Perry’s proposal is a solution in search of a problem aimed only at boosting the fortunes of coal and nuclear power.

But with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) due to make a decision on Perry’s plan next week, the chill is coming over the eastern part of the country at just the right time.

The nation’s nuclear plants have mostly been running reliably, and many utilities are running coal plants that they usually keep offline. The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station went offline Thursday due to a transmission line that stopped working, which owner Entergy Corp. emphasized was not a problem with the plant itself.

“As the last expert tut-tutted the secretary, an historic deep freeze grips the Eastern half of the country from Nebraska to New England, giving new credence to Perry’s cautious assessment of the grid’s ability to withstand disruptive events,” the National Mining Association wrote in a post on its Count on Coal blog, referring disparagingly to experts who said Perry’s proposal is unnecessary.

“Attention FERC commissioners: coal shines when temperatures plunge,” the group said, dubbing the cold snap “Polar Vortex 2.0.”

“The grid’s experience is that pipelines max out, coal piles can freeze, other forms of generation are much more weather-vulnerable than nuclear. Nuclear does not shut down because of cold,” Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Matt Wald told The Hill.

“In cold weather you really want to have a good amount of nuclear on the grid.”

Perry labels his plan a Grid Resiliency proposal. Supporters of the initiative say that with coal and nuclear plants closing due to cheap competitors and regulations, the electric grid is threatened, particularly when demand peaks at times like extreme weather.

Under the plan proposed in September, some independent organizations that operate electric grids would have to pay coal and nuclear plants for their costs plus a reasonable profit, even if competing sources like wind or gas would be cheaper.

The beneficiaries of that plan say the current cold snap vindicates them.

“The extreme cold illustrates the importance of having a diverse generation portfolio, and the vulnerabilities that could come if we relied on any one type of fuel source too heavily,” said Jennifer Young, spokeswoman for FirstEnergy Corp. The company operates power plants, including many coal and nuclear plants, in the mid-Atlantic, and stands to be a key beneficiary of the Perry proposal if it is enacted.

“This is exactly why we need a rule to ensure that these units stay in operation,” she said. “Absent these plants that have secure fuel supplies and can operate in all weather, we could be looking at a condition where there was a shortage of fuel for one reason or another.”

See the article here.