The Lesson from Luminant
October 18, 2017
Lately it seems that news, too, is in the eye of the beholder. The calamity brought by recent hurricanes – a calamity some greeted as evidence of climate change – was seen by others as evidence of grid vulnerability. Nature has become partisan.
So it was last week. Reporters for the most part saw in the news of Luminant’s latest plant shutdowns proof of coal’s decline. So too did the Sierra Club, crowing over coal plant retirements like roosters claiming credit for the sunrise.
But looked at another way, the same news from Vistra Energy’s subsidiary could support Energy Secretary Perry’s concern for grid resilience. If 4100 Megawatts of baseload power can quite unexpectedly drop out of the Texas grid – enough to power 2 million homes under normal conditions — shouldn’t someone be minding the store? If so, none better than the federal government finally to ask serious questions about the implications and prompt a discussion. Let the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission propose the solution.
The risk is more than just to the grid. Few reports mentioned the estimated 850 jobs that are now at risk from the four recent announced plant closings and the mines that supply them. Perry’s proposal to FERC will do little for them, but it could well preserve many jobs like these throughout the East and Midwest that literally count on coal.
Consider in Pennsylvania, 11,500 MW could be eligible for cost recovery. Illinois and Ohio together have more than 16,000 MW now undervalued for the resilience they provide to the grid and the security they offer to millions of households and businesses. Even Maryland has 5,200 MW of potential eligibility.
A correlation between jobs per megawatt of capacity [SourceWatch] suggests the 41,800 MW in just these states alone support more than 8,000 jobs. And that’s conservative, counting only power plant employment, not miners that supply the plants. In fact, a coalition of labor groups tied closely to baseload power plants urged adoption of a cost recovery remedy to avoid further job losses among the 3.2 million workers they represent.
To appreciate the impact they warn about, see it from the ground up, where it is lived. In Ohio’s Adams County, for example, the announced closure of two coal-based plants by Dayton Power & Light that employed 700 people during normal operations, and more than 1,000 during outages, put at risk an $80 million annual payroll and a loss of $8.5 million in county taxes. Schools, hospitals, local government, fire and rescue services – all would be hurt.
If enough nuclear and coal capacity drops out of the grid, power prices conceivably could rise enough to incentivize utilities to keep other baseload plants operational. As intermittent power sources continue to take share from baseload sources, pining grid security on that outcome is not a reliable expectation let alone responsible public policy.
- On October 18, 2017