Published on March 15th, 2019 |
by Tina Casey
March 15th, 2019 by Tina Casey
It’s easy to lose track of how many times President Trump* has professed affection for coal miners, but all those promises about bringing their jobs back are growing emptier by the day. In the latest development, the Commander-in-Chief’s own Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, stuck a fork in the US coal industry — and the nuclear industry, too.
Perry To Coal (& Nuclear) Power Plants: Have You Tried Jello-O?
Perry threw down the fatal fork of doom came earlier this week, during a panel discussion at the high-powered CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas.
Our friends over at Utility Dive reported that Perry and his agency seem to be at a loss for answers when the topic turns to propping up the nation’s aging baseload power plants:
“I’m open to conversations,” Perry told reporters at the event. “I’ve thrown a lot of Jell-O at the wall on this one trying to find some solutions that we can all, or at least a majority of us, can get behind.”
Utility Dive has many more details, so please support your friendly neighborhood energy journalist and follow the link to get the full picture.
For those of you on the go, Perry basically told state based legislative leaders to sally forth and spend their own political capital instead of relying on the White House for an assist.
States Scramble To Save Power Plants
Several states have already read the tea leaves. Utility Dive cites a at least three states that have established new subsidies for nuclear power plants.
On the coal side, earlier this month the Wyoming legislature passed a bill that would raise barriers against decommissioning power plants. The bill would also make it easier to purchase an “otherwise retiring” power plant.
The margin was overwhelming and Governor Mark Gordon promptly signed it into law.
Unfortunately the new law was too little, too late to save retirement benefits at Wyoming’s Kemmerer mine, but whatever.
Montana legislators are also tinkering around with the idea of establishing new subsidies for the state’s Colstrip power plant.
The Export Market Slips Out Of Reach
Coal power plants began to retire in force during the Obama administration. The closures have continued apace throughout Trump’s first two years in office, and the mining sector is beginning to wither under the heat.
So far the export market has been a lifeline for some US mines, but that’s a short term solution at best.
Making matters worse, legislators in both Montana and Wyoming also have to face anti-coal music playing in nearby coastal state of Washington.
Washington recently blocked a massive new coal export terminal and the two states, along with four others, are still pondering their legal options.
Washington is also forcing utilities to factor the social costs of coal into their future plans. That impacts the Colstrip power plant among others.
Trump Administration Went To Bat For Coal Power Plants, Sort Of
When Energy Secretary Rick Perry came into office in March of 2017, his first major action was to order up a national grid reliability study.
Clean energy stakeholders criticized the moves as a thinly disguised attempt to justify new subsidies for coal power plants. The criticism also applied to nuclear power plants.
A leaked draft of the new grid study actually made a strong case for renewables. The official version came out in August of 2017. Critics charged that it was watered down. However, the study still made a better case for wind power than it did for coal.
Nevertheless, Perry leveraged the study to ask FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for a new rate structure. The intention was to improve the bottom line for coal power plants.
FERC basically laughed the proposal out of the door last year, so there’s that.
The Trump administration also floated the idea of using the President’s emergency authority to keep the power plants humming. That idea also sank like a stone and was dead in the water as of last October.
It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again
Meanwhile, it’s worth recollecting that Perry was formerly the longest-running Governor in Texas history. During his tenure the state’s wind sector began to take off and it has been booming ever since.
The state is also no wallflower when it comes to solar power.
Coal, not so much. In fact, Perry and his boss seem to be much more excited about activity in the US oil and gas industry than coal.
Last August the Texas Statesman toted up the damage in the Texas mining sector:
There are currently 29 active coal mining permits in Texas. Of those 29 permits, 13 permits are producing, one has not begun production, one is a facility area supporting an adjacent mining operation, and 14 have ceased production and are in full reclamation mode…
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Photo: Dave Johnson power plant, Wyoming, by Greg Goebel/flickr, creative commons license.