Utility asks Perry to save coal, nuclear plants

Utility asks Perry to save coal, nuclear plants
© Greg Nash

A major utility company petitioned Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: House panel approves park funding, offshore drilling bills | Green group putting M into races | Perry applauds Russia boosting oil production Perry welcomes efforts by Russia, OPEC to boost oil production The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Hurricane Florence a new test for Trump team MORE Thursday for an emergency order to save coal and nuclear plants from closing in much of the northeastern United States.

FirstEnergy Corp. is seeking a declaration under section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act that certain coal and nuclear plants cannot close and that an electric grid operator pay plant operators enough to recover their costs.

The order would apply to the PJM Interconnection, the nonprofit grid operator for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

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The petition came after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in January rejected Perry’s request to bail out coal and nuclear plants in all competitive electricity markets, a proposal for which FirstEnergy was a vocal supporter. 

“PJM has demonstrated little urgency to remedy this problem any time soon — so immediate action by the secretary is needed to alleviate the present emergency,” Donald Schneider, president of FirstEnergy’s generation unit FirstEnergy Solutions, said in a statement.

He added that inaction would lead to “significant, negative outcomes for the approximately 65 million people living and working within the PJM footprint.”

PJM sent the 44-page petition to Perry hours after announcing it would close all three of its nuclear power plants, which are in Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

The legal provision PJM cited in its petition is usually reserved for natural disasters, war and similar emergencies and has not been used in the past to protect against economic headwinds.

Last year, Perry rejected a petition by Murray Energy Corp., a top coal-mining company and major supplier to FirstEnergy, for a similar order, limited to FirstEnergy’s plants.

But FirstEnergy argued that the situation currently facing coal and nuclear plants nonetheless warrants an emergency order.

“The continued retirement of nuclear and coal-fired generating facilities in PJM has resulted in an emergency situation that has placed the continuing security of PJM at risk,” the company wrote to Perry.

Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said that the agency had received the petition, “which will now go through our standard review process.”

Perry’s official Twitter account “liked” a tweet Thursday quoting from FirstEnergy’s petition.