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Critics Call Grid Stability Plan Thinly-Veiled Subsidy

A recent nonpartisan study found coal and nuclear power proved more, not less, vulnerable during hurricanes. (526663/Pixabay)
A recent nonpartisan study found coal and nuclear power proved more, not less, vulnerable during hurricanes. (526663/Pixabay)
November 13, 2017

ST. LOUIS – A federal proposal to boost the reliability of the power grid would cost billions of dollars and do little to make the grid more stable, according to a study by the Rhodium Group.

The Department of Energy says the subsidy for coal and nuclear power plants that stockpile 90 days of fuel would ensure electricity in emergencies.

But the nonpartisan study by Rhodium Group says the plan would cost taxpayers more than $10 billion a year. And the study says it was coal plants that failed during the 2014 polar vortex and Hurricane Harvey.

David A. Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), says power lines are much more vulnerable than, say, renewables on the Gulf Coast.

"Most outages that people experience in their homes or businesses are caused by the transmission or distribution system,” he points out. “Hurricane Harvey hit in Texas, where there's 5,000 megawatts of wind. None of the turbines fell. They weren't damaged."

Comments on the proposal from the Union of Concerned Scientists and others point out it was fossil fuel and nuclear plants that went offline during 2012's Hurricane Sandy.

Critics describe the plan as a thinly veiled, multi-billion-dollar subsidy for those industries.

According to the DOE, more than 500 coal-generating units have closed since 2002, and the operators of eight nuclear reactors announced they were closing last year.

Schlissel says with cheap natural gas, wind and solar now on the market, those plants just can't compete.

"Plants that are not economic to continue operating will be subsidized, and that's what this proposal by the administration intends to do, is put a thumb on the scale," he asserts.

Schlissel says the big historical blackouts on the East Coast were caused by failures in the transmission and distribution system. He says renewables can be more decentralized and much less dependent on those power lines.

And Schlissel adds at a time when there is plenty of electricity available for the grids, the DOE proposal as an expensive solution in search of a problem.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - MO