Energy Regulators Still Working to Increase Grid Resiliency and Reliability

by | Jan 11, 2018

The Trump administration’s concept of promoting grid resiliency has been rejected by federal energy regulators — most of whom the president had appointed. The central idea had been to give manufacturers and other industrials greater reliability by ensuring the survival of older coal-fired and nuclear energy generation plants.

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted down that idea this week, saying that keeping alive the older and uneconomic plants would not increase reliability. That strategy would, instead, tilt the playing field away from more competitive fuels, which include green energy and natural gas. To that end, big companies that buy their electricity on the open market would get hurt.

The “grid is not facing a crisis,” Apple wrote to the federal energy regulators on Monday, as reported by the CNN Money. Any subsidies given to coal or nuclear plants would “inhibit, rather than promote, a well-designed and competitive electricity market that can drive down costs for consumers and unleash competition.”

While the energy commission’s decision is binding, it did say that the nation’s grid does need to be beefed up and thus it asked the regional transmission organizations and independent system operators that oversee the transmission system in certain parts of the country to submit their ideas on how this can be done.

The U.S. Department of Energy had wanted power plants that could store up 90 days of fuel on site to be able to receive a subsidy that would give them added relevance at a time when markets are favoring natural gas and renewables. The context here is that when the country endured its Polar Vortex a few years as well the recent cold snaps, it has been the fossil-fired plants and the nuclear plants that have stepped up to ensure things go smoothly.

But the Energy Department “never explained why those plants were inherently more reliable or resilient,” John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project coalition housed within the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

President Trump came to office on the promise that he would rollback all the Obama-era environmental regulations and let markets rule. To that end, it has been reported by the New York Times that Robert Murray, chief executive of the coal developing business Murray Energy, wrote a letter to both Vice President Pence and the Department of Energy suggesting what might be done. His ideas, which have been largely carried out by Trump’s team:

— eliminate all carbon regulations under the Clean Power Plan and withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement;

— eliminate all the ozone regulations;

— eliminate the cross-state air pollution rules;

— reduce regulations on mining safety;

— eliminate federal funding for carbon capture and sequestration;

— eliminate all subsidies for renewable energy and,

— do away with the endangerment finding that says CO2 is a pollutant.

Murray has told this writer that coal is the world’s fuel of choice — and “until they get cold and in the dark, they won’t understand what this reliable electric grid has meant.”

He adds that there are 7 billion on the planet who are without access to modern electricity while the world is spending $4 billion a day on climate change, which he calls a “political movement” and “crony capitalism.”

Murray, furthermore, has said that Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had not properly considered of compliance when it comes to reducing CO2 levels by 32% by 2030. Obama’s EPA said it would be between $7 billion and $8 billion by 2030, producing $31 billion in benefits. But Murray and some other industrial groups had differed, saying that the cost would be $40 billion and $366 billion and that the benefits would be considerably less.

But it is not just Apple that favors a low-carbon future. Hundreds of other businesses support not just the Clean Power Plan but also the Paris climate agreement: Alcoa Inc., Berkshire Hathaway, BMW, DowDupont, EMC Corp. and General Motors Co. The non-profit sustainability group, Ceres, says that $36 trillion is needed, globally, to finance new clean energy technology between now and 2050.

And as far as the argument goes about needing to prop up such fuels as coal to grid resilient: Several former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission members had written to the current board there that subsidizing older plants would disrupt attempts to modernize the grid. Furthermore, most disruptions in electricity service are the result of downed power lines — not fuel shortages, adds the Rhodium Group.

“The Commission’s endorsement of markets does not conflict with its oversight of reliability, and the Commission has been able to focus on both without compromising its commitment to either,” federal energy regulators wrote in their order.

“The Commission recognizes that it must remain vigilant with respect to resilience challenges,” they added, “because affordable and reliable electricity is vital to the country’s economic and national security.”

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