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Coal, Nuke Subsidy Criticized as Expensive, No Help for Grid Security

A recent nonpartisan study found coal and nuclear power proved more, not less, vulnerable during hurricanes. (The Birkes/Wikipedia)
A recent nonpartisan study found coal and nuclear power proved more, not less, vulnerable during hurricanes. (The Birkes/Wikipedia)
November 9, 2017

RICHMOND, VA -- A federal proposal to boost the reliability of the power grid would cost billions and do little to make the grid more stable, according to research.

The Department of Energy is proposing a subsidy for coal and nuclear plants that stockpile 90 days of fuel to ensure electricity in an emergency. But a recent nonpartisan study showed the plan would cost taxpayers more than $10 billion a year. And in fact, fuel supply was not the issue when coal plants failed during the 2014 polar vortex and Hurricane Harvey earlier this year.

David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said power lines are much more vulnerable than, say, renewable energy farms on the Gulf Coast.

"Most outages that people experience in their homes or businesses are caused by the transmission or distribution system,” Schlissel said. "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 pointed out it was fossil fuel and nuclear plants that went offline during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

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

Critics describe the plan as a thinly veiled, multi-billion-dollar subsidy for the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.

According to the DOE, more than 500 coal-generating units have closed since 2002, and eight nuclear reactors announced they were closing last year. Schlissel said 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,” he said. “And that's what this proposal by the administration intends to do is put a thumb on the scale."

He said 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.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA