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US government says support for nuclear and coal plants a matter of national security

29 June 2018

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on June 25 that bailing out struggling coal and nuclear power plants was as important to national security as keeping the military strong, and that the cost should not be an issue. Perry said the security of the electricity grid was as important as having the right number of ships, aircraft and military personnel.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry - Image: Andrew Cline /
US Energy Secretary Rick Perry - Image: Andrew Cline /

“You cannot put a dollar figure on the cost to keep America free,” he told reporters at a press conference in Washington, when asked about the administration’s effort to extend the lives of the facilities. Questioned about the cost and timetable of a potential bailout, he said the details were still being worked out.

President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to take emergency measures to slow the retirements of coal and nuclear power plants because they are better able to withstand supply disruptions that could be caused by storms, hacks, or physical attacks than gas plants, which rely on vulnerable pipelines, or renewables facilities dependent on the weather.

This fits in with President Trump's stated aim to boost US fossil fuel production and save the coal industry.

Ageing coal and nuclear facilities have been closing at a rapid pace in recent years, made uneconomic by cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, which are driving the decline US emissions of greenhouse gases.

DOE proposals for bailing out coal and nuclear facilities could include mandating grid operators to purchase power from them. Federal energy regulators rejected a previous effort by Perry to require them to subsidise nuclear and coal plants for providing “resilience” to the grid.

These moves have been criticised by an unusual alliance of energy utilities, oil and gas drillers, renewable energy advocates, environmentalists, regulators and grid operators.

NRG Energy, for example, which owns nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants, is against any forced subsidy program.

“We’re very concerned to have consumer money subsidize plants. It’s never good when government starts picking and choosing winners and losers,” said Mauricio Gutierrez, NRG chief executive.

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