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Trump administration taking steps to save coal plants; effect on Colstrip unclear

03 June 2018

President Donald Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate action to stem power plant closures in the name of national security, arguing that a decline in coal and nuclear electricity is putting the nation's grid at risk.

"Unfortunately, impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation's energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid", the White House said in a statement. After the Energy Department conducted a reliability study a year ago, Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed a rule that would have compensated coal and nuclear plants for their ability to store months' worth of fuel on site.

Over dozens of pages, the memo makes the case for action, arguing that the decommissioning of power plants must be managed for national security reasons and that federal intervention is necessary before the US reaches a tipping point in the loss of essential, secure electric generation resources.

The directive comes as the Trump administration considers a plan to order grid operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants to keep them open. The memo added that "federal action is necessary to stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity".

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The DOE measure would also create a "Strategic Electric Generation Reserve", which would shore up the U.S.'s domestic energy reserves in case of an emergency. Perry argued that losing the plants could threaten the nation's power grid.

E&E News - an online energy-focused media outlet - in April reported that the DPA was being studied as a tool to provide Trump with sweeping powers to help any industry he deemed crucial to national defense.

They noted that the coal and nuclear power plants that would benefit have failed to compete against natural gas, solar and wind.

The Defense Production Act, adopted in 1950 at the start of the Korean War, allows the federal government to intervene in business to promote national security.

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The plan would exempt power plants from obeying a host of environmental laws and spend billions to keep coal-fired plants open.

"Americans should not have to pay for dirty, uneconomic coal plants that pollute our environment and make people sick - especially when there are cleaner, more affordable energy options available", Panfil said. "There is no need for any such drastic action", said a PJM spokesperson about the new idea.

Analysts said the new plan would face numerous legal and political challenges before it could get implemented.

The Trump administration's claims of energy security for keeping coal and nuclear plants online is not supported by the facts, as multiple power networks, including PJM, one of the biggest USA independent systems, point to a recent extremely cold "bomb cyclone" weather event in the United States northeast that showed the regional grid operating efficiently despite coal power plant closures, cited by Ars Technica.

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Trump administration taking steps to save coal plants; effect on Colstrip unclear