West Virginia lawmakers approve Trump action to help coal plants

WASHINGTON — West Virginia lawmakers applauded Friday a decision by President Donald Trump that orders Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take steps preventing the retirement of coal and nuclear facilities.

According to a memo obtained by Bloomberg, the strategy could involve compelling grid operators into purchasing electricity produced at these power plants over two years, as well as establishing a “Strategic Electric Generation Reserve.”

An August study from the U.S. Department of Energy listed natural gas as the primary reason for the growing retirement of coal and nuclear power plant. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas facilities produce 31.7 percent of the nation’s electricity compared to coal-powered plants with 30.1 percent and nuclear facilities at 20 percent.

“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,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Friday in a statement. “President Trump has directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to prepare immediate steps to stop the loss of these resources, and looks forward to receiving his recommendations.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said national security is tied directly to energy production, adding “the ability to produce reliable electricity and to recover from disruptions to our grid are critical to ensuring our nation’s security against the various threats facing our nation today.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she was supportive of Trump’s decision.

“As it has done time and time again over the years, coal proved to be exactly what we needed to power the country, demonstrating its importance in keeping the lights on when other resources were unavailable,” she said.

“The closure of additional power plants will weaken America’s national security. With coal and nuclear plants already closing at alarming rates, the reliability of America’s electric grid is at risk,” U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said. “From the Polar Vortex to Hurricane Harvey to the growing threat of cyberattacks from foreign enemies, we’ve seen how weather and other external factors can stress our energy supply and threaten our security.”

Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., called the decision “truly a step in the right direction.”

“Coal is a reliable, affordable, domestic source of energy, one that keeps the heat on during tough winters that tax our electrical grid. Our coal-fired power plants are a critical part of our nation’s power grid and must play a role in an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” he said.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Friday’s decision shows how important it is to protect the coal industry and related electricity facilities. He also said coal and other forms of electricity production play are important in making the nation’s energy infrastructure “stable and resilient.”

Gov. Jim Justice celebrated the decision,  saying in a statement the policy is part of his plan to protect the coal industry and related electricity plants.

“The concept of my initial plan has been to pay an incentive payment to all of the Eastern utilities for each ton of Central and Northern Appalachian coal that they purchase,” Justice said. “This Homeland Security incentive payment would cost our nation very little when you consider the security risk we would have if we lost our Eastern coal fields.”

The governor said his policy would put “tens of thousands” of coal miners back to work.

“Simply put, we cannot do without coal in the foreseeable future,” he added.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected a proposal in January that would have established rules allowing for the recovery of costs at facilities that a 90-day supply of fuel. Perry said the proposal was in order to ensure resilience and reliability in the nation’s electricity system. The commissioners — of which four were appointed by Trump — ruled plant retirements do not appear to threaten the nation’s electric infrastructure.

“The addition of a diverse array of generation resources, including natural gas, solar, wind, and geothermal, as well as maturing technologies, such as energy storage, distributed generation, and demand response, have in many respects contributed to the resilience of the bulk power system,” commissioner Richard Glick said earlier this year.

Neil Waggoner of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Ohio said in a press release Trump and Perry should not prop up declining energy facilities.

“Trump clearly wants to try anything to help his millionaire coal and nuclear executive buddies, even demanding American families fork over big bucks to prop up their uneconomic, failing power plants,” he said.

Leaders of numerous energy organizations, including those associated with natural gas, condemned the plan.

“We need to move away from a narrow focus on resuscitating individual projects and refocus the discussion on what lies at the heart of resiliency — the ability to reliably serve power customers in the most cost-efficient manner over both the short and the long-term,” said Dena Wiggins, president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association.

Todd Foley, senior vice president of policy and government affairs at the American Council on Renewable Energy, said the Trump administration’s action would “undermine competitive markets,” resulting in increased electricity costs throughout the United States.

“Arbitrary market interventions deprive businesses of the certainty they need to invest in power plants of all types, harming not helping electric reliability,” he added.

Friday also marked the one-year anniversary of Trump announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, in which a majority of nations agreed to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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