When its other arguments failed to win over converts, the Trump administration turned to national security as one of its primary reasons to bail out financially struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants. In a new report, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), a nonprofit trade group for the renewables industry, attempts to show how this argument is yet another desperate ploy by an administration hoping to appease its benefactors in the coal industry.
The report, “The Role of Renewable Energy in National Security,” highlights how renewable energy resources have withstood recent extreme weather events, helping to provide secure and reliable electricity to the nation, including U.S. Department of Defense installations.
Coal and nuclear power facilities, held up by the Trump administration as examples of resilient energy, have demonstrated a tendency to fail in periods of crises, the report notes.
Most recently, after Hurricane Florence dropped record levels of rainfall on North Carolina, large parts of the state lost electricity. But the solar power facilities in the state — North Carolina has the second-most solar capacity in the nation — sustained barely any damage and were back online quickly, even as coal and nuclear plants had continuing problems, the report says.
North Carolina is home to several large Defense Department installations that rely on electric power from the state’s grid, which is supplied by many of these solar facilities. The military and defense industries are the second largest employers in the state.
Meanwhile in Texas, wind energy facilities stood tall in September 2017 as Hurricane Harvey came ashore. While some wind turbines in the coastal region of Texas went into scheduled shutdown when the hurricane made landfall, the periods before and after Harvey hit saw increased levels of wind generation and limited damage to wind energy infrastructure, according to ACORE.
“Time and time again, renewable energy generators have demonstrated an incredible ability to withstand storms and bounce back quickly after extreme weather events that are becoming all too common in our country, ACORE spokesperson Gil Jenkins said Thursday in an email to ThinkProgress.
ACORE hopes to use its report to further underscore why it believes the Trump administration’s campaign to keep coal and nuclear plants afloat is misguided.
Trump’s plan, however, already appears to be in peril. Recent news reports suggest Trump officials are putting on hold its efforts to prop up ailing coal and nuclear plants.
Our new issue brief, "The Role of Renewable Energy in National Security," shows how #renewables enhance the resilience & security of our electric system and support our military's mission: https://t.co/yLt5LtcVrD #energytwitter pic.twitter.com/3xCqlKjVPq
— American Renewable Energy (@ACORE) October 17, 2018
“We believe the media reports to be credible and consistent with our intelligence stemming from conversations with officials at DOE and the White House,” ACORE chief executive Gregory Wetstone said Tuesday about news reports suggesting the administration was pulling back on its bailout plan.
Wetstone continued: “The change in posture reflects important progress in the efforts of ACORE and our members and allies (including the oil & gas groups we partnered with in opposition to the bailout) to educate key officials about the destructive economic repercussions of undermining competitive electricity markets.”
Wetstone warned, however, that it may be too early to declare victory on the issue.
“There is every reason to believe that the president and Energy Secretary Rick Perry remain committed to finding a way to bailout aging coal and nuclear power plants that are no longer economically viable,” he said. “And they may soon have a well-placed ally at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”
On October 3, President Trump nominated Bernard McNamee for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seat vacated by the resignation of Robert Powelson. While Powelson opposed a coal bailout, McNamee supported the initial Department of Energy’s bail-out proposal during his time as deputy general counsel for DOE.
In August 2017, DOE released a grid reliability study that was followed by a proposal sent to FERC. The proposal sought to guarantee cost recovery for aging coal and nuclear plants that would otherwise retire because they can no longer compete economically.
DOE asserted that 90 days of on-site fuel supplies were necessary to ensure grid resilience in an effort to justify proposed subsidies. But FERC rejected the proposal in a unanimous decision in January.
In May, a leaked DOE memo revealed a draft administrative plan offering a different rationale for such subsidies. The memo called for an order that would require electricity grid operators, utilities and ratepayers to purchase electricity from select coal and nuclear plants identified by DOE at an unspecified subsidized price, on the basis that such action is essential for national security.
Then, in early June, Trump issued a statement directing Perry to prepare steps to prevent the loss of coal and nuclear power plants.
In anticipation that the Trump administration may continue to use national security arguments to justify further attempts to bail out coal and nuclear plants, ACORE emphasizes in its new report how renewable energy bolsters the resilience and security of the nation’s power grid and supports the mission of the U.S. military.
For more than a decade, Defense Department officials have sought to deploy renewable technologies at military facilities across the country and in support of overseas operations where they can reduce risk from exposed fuels lines and reduce casualties associated with fuel-supply convoys, according to the report.
The Trump administration’s proposals to subsidize continued operation of coal and nuclear generators that have often had to shut down in the face of extreme events “would undermine, rather than promote, grid security” for the nation and the military, the report concludes.