The U.S. Department of Energy is recommending new federal market policies be created to recognize that old coal and nuclear power plants as well as new gas plants are critical to the stability — and resiliency — of the nation’s electric grid.
The DOE is recommending the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission work with grid managers such PJM Interconnection, which controls the high voltage grid in 13 states including Ohio, create new market policies that give credit to the stability it has determined that old coal and nuclear plants provide for the grid.
FERC has already begun such a review and has been deluged with thousands of pages of recommendations from not only the industry but environmental groups as well.
Requested by President Donald Trump in April, the study notes that many old coal plants and some nuclear plants have been closing, not only because of the environmental policies of the previous administration but also because existing competitive markets favor the lowest priced power.
The DOE’s staff, with an assist from scientists and engineers in federal laboratories, took four months to pull together a massive review (187 pages) of the impact of current market policies and new technologies such as wind and solar power have had on the nation’s electric grid.
The main conclusion, buttressed by a new focus on grid resiliency, or the ability keep operating despite unanticipated catastrophes, is that old “baseload” coal and nuclear power plants are crucial and must be kept operating.
That finding is certain to draw the attention of the wind industry, which has previously announced that during the “polar vortex” of January 2014, its wind farms kept operating while many coal, gas and some nuclear plants were forced to shut down.
The DOE’s conclusion also mirrors the complaints of utilities such as FirstEnergy, heavy with coal and nuclear power plants, which have trouble competing against gas and wind.
Finally, the study also pays homage to President Trump’s executive order that environmental rules be relaxed in an “all of the above” energy approach to make the nation energy independent, not really an issue in power production. The study does not directly mention “climate change,” even as a threat to grid stability.
The DOE’s conclusions will probably not do much to brighten the immediate outlook of coal mining companies whose businesses have been wrecked by the closing of hundreds of coal plants. Those old plants cannot be restarted.
Released late Wednesday night, the study immediately drew praise from industry associations and sparked criticism from environmental groups, which have made strong arguments for renewable technologies, especially as their power prices have fallen.
This report is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” said Kim Smaczniak, an attorney with Earthjustice, a law firm that represents environmental groups across the country.
“Study after study – including an earlier draft of this very report – has set the record straight: states are forging ahead toward a clean energy future with rapid growth in renewables, and energy that remains reliable and affordable, while generating less pollution,” she said in an email.
“Rather than embrace the progress we’ve made and move full steam ahead with the transition to clean energy, the Trump Administration is burning tax payer dollars on a report on “baseload” power – an antiquated code word for coal and nuclear – to conjure up false attacks on clean energy.”
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the chief lobbying organization for the nuclear power industry, found the report just right.
“The U.S. Department of Energy’s electric grid study reaffirms our view that nuclear energy is a key and necessary contributor to a clean, reliable and resilient electric grid, which now is more important than ever,”said Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of NEI.
“Today electricity markets do not properly credit nuclear energy for the numerous benefits it delivers, forcing plants to close years before the end of their useful lives and compromising grid reliability and resiliency in the process,” she added.
And the Edison Electric Institute, an association representing investor-owned utilities, “commended” the DOE for its work.
“While we are still thoroughly reviewing the study, EEI has long advocated that our customers are best served by public policies that promote a balanced and diverse energy mix, which includes both traditional and renewable energy sources, and that also recognize the vital role 24/7 energy sources play in sustaining a secure, reliable, and resilient energy grid, said Tom Kuhn, the institute’s president in a statement.
“Whether to limit impacts from inevitable storms or natural events or to prepare for malicious cyber or physical attacks, supporting a resilient energy grid is an investment in national and economic security,” he added.
The Natural Resources Defense Council declared the study “schizophrenic.”
“DOE’s grid study reads like a schizophrenic attempt to support outdated, uncompetitive, and highly polluting power plants,” said NRDC attorney John Moore in an email. “DOE Secretary Perry appears determined to mold America’s transmission grid around support for fossil fuels, but the facts in his own report don’t back up that approach.
“The recommendations ignore renewable energy’s contributions to a reliable electricity system.
“They also include misguided proposals to gut environmental rules for coal and nuclear plants, and to pay fossil resources for reliability services that DOE hasn’t demonstrated are necessary. DOE and Secretary Perry should be focusing instead on accelerating the growth of clean energy rather than creating barriers.”
The Advanced Energy Economy, an association representing advanced, clean and renewable energy, found it significant that the report put blame for the demise of coal and nuclear on gas, rather than wind or solar. But it disagreed with the study that the old coal and nuclear plants are crucial.
“We are glad to see that DOE recognizes that changes in the grid are primarily the result of low-cost natural gas, not policies supporting renewable energy. But this report seriously overstates the challenges associated with new energy resources. It also implies that certain power plants now losing out in the marketplace make an irreplaceable contribution to reliability and resilience, which is not the case,” said Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, in an emailed statement.
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- On August 24, 2017