Trump admin uses recent ‘bomb cyclone’ to push coal energy
The Trump administration is pointing to the East Coast’s recent “bomb cyclone” winter storm as to why the country needs coal energy for electric grid resilience.
Speaking on a panel of energy experts Tuesday, Bruce Walker, an assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, emphasized the importance of energy diversity to energy security, especially in times of freezing temperatures.
A key component of that diversity of energy sources, many say, is coal and nuclear energy, which are often called “baseload fuels.”
“What was apparent during this weather event was the continued reliance on baseload generation and a diverse energy portfolio,” Walker said at the hearing. “Without action that recognizes the essential reliability services provided by a strategically diversified generation portfolio, we cannot guarantee the resilience of the electric grid.”
During the two-week cold snap that affected cities from the Midwest to New England, coal was a top energy provider. According to Andrew Ott, the chief executive of grid operator PJM Interconnection, coal provided 40 percent of the region’s power. The PJM market is across 13 states from Illinois to Washington, D.C.
“We could not have served customers without coal,” Ott said.
Asked by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) how necessary coal fire plants were to the stability of the electric grid, Kevin McIntyre, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said: “In this recent weather event, we wouldn’t have seen any widespread outages absent coal, but coal was a key contributor — I share your overall view that all of the above has to considered in our policy.”
While the national electric grid faired well during the most recent storm, Walker, the Energy Department official, argued that cities should continue to use coal energy in some capacity to ensure stability in times of emergency.
“The question isn’t whether or not we could get rid of coal. The question is should we get rid of coal?” Walker said. He added that he doesn’t think the country should.
The question of whether the energy grid would be strong enough with fewer fossil fuel sources is especially timely as a number of cities are opting for lower or zero carbon footprints.
Republicans’ push toward coal echoes the sentiments of a proposal made by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in December calling for new rules to protect coal-fired and nuclear power plants for grid-resiliency.
FERC, in January, rejected that proposal to prop up struggling coal and nuclear power plants.
The success of the power grids during the recent bomb cyclone, which threw a number of East Coast cities into record breaking lows in January, also added to criticism from Democrats and others as to whether ageing coal fire and nuclear plants really were needed to help the power grid.
“I think baseload often times today is more of a political term than an engineering term. It tends to come up at times as a code for trying to subsidize generation that is no longer competitive in the marketplace,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) at the hearing. “Coal generators, when they go down, are providing zero power to the grid.”
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