It’s no secret that coal plants in the U.S. are struggling. Even in the heart of coal country, coal plants are being replaced with cheaper natural gas and renewable plants. In many parts of the country, it’s now cheaper to tear down a coal plant and build a new natural gas or renewable plant in its place than to continue burning coal.
All of this presents a bit of a quandary for the Trump Administration, which has made saving coal jobs one of the cornerstones of its policy. A memo reveals a potential plan to try and save coal power in the U.S. by forcing utility companies to buy electricity from coal plants where available.
Bloomberg obtained an that proposes the Department exercise emergency authority to mandate grid operators purchase electricity from at-risk coal and nuclear plants. In addition, the memo calls for a ‘Strategic Electric Generation Reserve’ that will ensure the country’s electricity supply in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
The memo justifies this action by noting that some types of power generation, such as natural gas, rely on fuel sources that aren’t stored on-site, making them vulnerable to attacks or disasters. The memo sites the need for the American electricity grid to be “resilient and secure” by relying more on generators like coal plants that can maintain large fuel stockpiles nearby.
However, creating an electricity grid that depends on outdated and harmful fuel sources could do more long-term harm than good, especially as the world seeks to replace fossil fuels with cleaner, renewable energy sources. A memo could argue for an expansion of renewable sources coupled with battery storage and similar technologies to a functionally equivalent end.
Still, this could provide a justification for the White House to intervene and save dying coal plants, assuming the Administration moves forward on this idea. Currently, the memo is marked as a draft and there are no public plans to implement any of its suggestions, but that President Trump has directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate steps to prevent the further closure of coal power plants.