U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to ensure “a reliable, resilient electric grid” by propping up nuclear and coal power plants is being met with condemnation by environmental advocacy groups who says it’s based on an erroneous argument and spells bad news for customers and the climate alike.
Perry made the proposal Friday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), stating: “A diverse mix of power generation resources, including those with on-site reserves, is essential to the reliable delivery of electricity—particularly in times of supply stress such as recent natural disasters. My proposal will strengthen American energy security by ensuring adequate reserve resource supply and I look forward to the commission acting swiftly on it.”
“[Sec. Perry’s proposal] would essentially ensure that coal and nuclear plants in regions encompassing most of the country continue to run even where they are too expensive to compete in the energy market. It would saddle utility customers with higher costs, while posing obstacles to the electricity system integration of cleaner and less risky energy sources such as solar and wind.” —Miles Farmer, NRDCThe Hill describes it as the most definitive action “yet by the Trump administration to try to save coal and nuclear plants,” as it asks the independent agency to make a rule that “independent system operators and regional transmission organizations—the entities that operate regional electric grids… be required when signing wholesale electricity contracts to allow certain ‘resilient’ power plants to get a ‘fair rate of return,’ even when prices would otherwise be lower.”
“To make his case,” explains ThinkProgress‘ Joe Romm, “Perry has fabricated an economic threat to U.S. grid reliability from cheap renewables and then proposed a rule to account for the imaginary reliability benefit of other electricity sources—all the while ignoring the actual health and environmental costs of carbon pollution from burning coal that aren’t priced in to the market yet.”
Miles Farmer, clean enrgy attorney with NRDC, calls it a “radical and unprecedented move” that “is couched under a false premise that power plants with fuel located on site are needed to guarantee the reliability of the electricity system.” Such an argument, in fact, “relies on a mischaracterization of DOE’s own recent study of electricity markets and reliability (discussed here), which if anything demonstrated that this kind of proposed action is not justified.”
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If Perry’s proposal was adopted, warns Farmer, it “would essentially ensure that coal and nuclear plants in regions encompassing most of the country continue to run even where they are too expensive to compete in the energy market. It would saddle utility customers with higher costs, while posing obstacles to the electricity system integration of cleaner and less risky energy sources such as solar and wind.”
According to Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, Perry is “simply doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry” by “shamelessly trying to force electricity customers to pay billions of dollars to prop up old, dangerous, and uneconomic coal and nuclear plants.”
Her organization, she said, is determined to fight a rule.
“The Federal Power Act clearly states that FERC cannot favor one energy source over others in its rulemakings, and Perry’s ask—without evidence or common sense—seeks to prop up dangerous coal and nuclear plants that can no longer compete in the wholesale market. We are prepared to take to court any illegal rule that props up dirty fossil fuel plants or weakens clean energy’s market access.”