Trump administration taking steps to save coal plants; effect on Colstrip unclear

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In a draft memo to be circulated on Friday, the Department of Energy (DOE) argues in favor of using a wartime rule called the Defense Production Act to bail out failing coal and nuclear plants, according to Bloomberg, which obtained a copy of the memo. One impartial group that manages the electrical energy grid that serves greater than 65 million individuals stated that it might be unhealthy for shoppers if the federal authorities intervenes out there.

In line with Energy Secretary Rick Perry's narrative that staving off further coal and nuclear retirements is a national security imperative, the draft memo contends that resources with secure on-site fuel supplies "are essential to support the nation's defense facilities, critical energy infrastructure and other critical infrastructure".

Under a state law passed in 2016, utilities in OR are not allowed to bring coal-fired power into their customers' energy mix past 2035.

"Keeping America's energy grid and infrastructure strong and secure protects our national security, public safety and economy from intentional attacks and natural disasters", spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

As the document is a draft labeled "not for further distribution", it's unclear whether DOE is moving forward with such an order, or if the draft memo was just teeing up a potential path forward.

Sanders added that "impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities" pose a risk to national security, which prompted Friday's actions.

By January, the commission had rejected Perry's request, the Times reported. That proceeding is ongoing.

"We support all efforts to ensure the security of our nation's electric power supply, which is critical to the reliability of our electric power grids, to low-priced electricity and to our national defence", Murray said Friday in a statement.

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There are now only two nuclear reactors under construction in the USA, in addition to the 99 in service.

The Energy Department would be relying partly on the Federal Power Act - the so-called Section 202 authority - that lets the administration order guaranteed profits for power plants that can store large amounts of fuel on site. "Above all, the subsidy would be a major victory for First Energy as it negotiates with bondholders over the value of coal and nuclear plants owned by its bankrupt First Energy Solutions subsidiary". "This fuel security is an essential element of national security".

American power generators are expected to retire - or announce the retirements of - 16,200 megawatts of coal-fired and 550 megawatts of nuclear plant capacity this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The Natural Gas Supply Association said the stopgap measure laid out in the draft memo was "a awful idea on multiple levels".

Colstrip's two oldest units, 1 and 2, are slated to shut down by 2022 as part of a settlement agreement between the plant's owners and utility regulators in Washington state, where Colstrip sells most of its power.

Analysts said the new plan would face numerous legal and political challenges before it could get implemented. The plan would direct regional transmission operators to buy power from coal and nuclear plants for two years to ensure grid reliability, "promote the national defence and maximize domestic energy supplies".

He said using that section of the Federal Power Act "tees off the concept of continuance of a war in which the United States is involved as being kind of the baseline circumstance that would justify a DOE order to certain types of facilities to either begin operating or continue operation". U.S. Defense Department installations are 99 percent dependent on the commercial power grid, one reason that electric system reliability is vitally important to national defense and homeland security, the memo asserts.

Grid operator PJM criticized the announcement, saying there was "no need for any such drastic action".