Regulators Confirm Trump’s Concern: Coal And Nuclear Closures Could Lead To Power Outages

From The Daily Caller

6:34 PM 12/18/2018 | Energy

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

A stress test conducted by the regulatory authority that oversees North America’s electric grid lends credibility to the Trump administration’s warnings that rampant coal and nuclear plant closures could result in power outages.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) — an international nonprofit that examines and promotes grid reliability among utility systems in the U.S. and Canada — released its Generation Retirement Scenario on Tuesday. In its 44-page report, the regulatory authority found an aggressive rate of coal-fired and nuclear plant retirements risks electric grid reliability.

Grid reliability refers to the power system’s ability to deliver electricity at the rate it is demanded. If electric utilities are not able to meet demand at any given time, the result would be a blackout for the affected region. While more traditional power generators like coal and nuclear plants can generate electricity at a constant rate, renewable energy technology, such as wind and solar, produces electricity at more intermittent and weaker intervals.

For its reliability assessment, NERC performed a “stress test” scenario. The hypothetical situation identified nuclear and coal plants that are at-risk of retirement by 2025, and accelerated the timeframe to 2022. In the accelerated timeline, NERC found areas that were at risk of failing to meet peak electricity demand.

“In nearly all areas assessed, large-scale retirements would likely create the need for electric and natural gas infrastructure, expedited buildout of new generation and increased use of demand-side resources,” said John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment, in the Tuesday report. “These findings underscore the challenge and the need for risk-informed planning.”

The report stresses this study was conducted to identify risk only, and should not be used as a predicative forecast.

The report loosely reflects the Trump administration’s reasoning for a federal bailout on coal and nuclear facilities.

The Department of Energy attempted to enact such a bailout plan, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unanimously rejected it in January. The Energy Department then went back to the drawing board and drafted another bailout that was leaked to the media over the summer. The new plan warned of grid reliability risks stemming from rampant coal and nuclear plant closures. However, this plan was ultimately shelved by the White House in October.

Thermal Nuclear Plant. Shutterstock

Thermal Nuclear Plant. Shutterstock

The NERC report comes as the U.S. power system is undergoing an immense transformation. Coal plants — which have long been the backbone of the country’s generation industry — are shuttering at a rapid pace and getting replaced with renewables and natural gas. The Trump administration’s deregulation policy does not appear to be helping coal companies stave off early retirement. (RELATED: Struggling Coal Plants May Get A Lifeline In New Senate Bill)

While environmental groups have vehemently opposed Trump’s attempt to save coal, more green groups are beginning to change their tune on nuclear plants, recognizing their closures will result in more carbon emissions. A growing number of state governments are passing legislation that saves their at-risk nuclear facilities to stave off emissions.

In terms of protecting grid reliability, NERC recommends operators to assess whether they have the tools to manage major generation retirements and have regulators allow for a more streamlined process to upgrade energy infrastructure.

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51 thoughts on “Regulators Confirm Trump’s Concern: Coal And Nuclear Closures Could Lead To Power Outages

  1. I think I’d better ask for coal in my stocking this year. The AGW adjusted forecast said 80 degrees for today, a record breaker – and it barely managed 70. Supposed to be in the 50s on Christmas Day – so I’d better cover the outside plants; after deadjustment to reality, it’s going to be freezing…

    • Coal still has its uses even if we aren’t burning it to stay warm. Liquefaction and gasification provide numerous useful products that are used through out industry.
      And as far as I know they still need steel to build wind mills.

      • My company is assisting in the writing of a white paper requested by Energy Secretary Perry in furtherance of the National Coal Council’s “New Markets for Coal” initiative, which will complement the DoE’s vitally important Coal FIRST grant program:

        https://www.energy.gov/fe/articles/energy-department-announces-intent-fund-research-advances-coal-plants-future

        My company will be applying, based on our proprietary technologies for converting coal-combustion residuals (arguably the largest and most contentious industrial waste problem in the country) into low-cost, commercial-grade concrete for virtually any application.

        Our one gripe with Coal FIRST is its emphasis on designing new coal plants to help solar and wind solve their otherwise intractable “intermittency” problem, which we believe is a huge mistake, as it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the already-besieged coal power industry to subsidize renewables. Rather, it should be left to renewables to do so.

        When they can, fine.

        Until then, tough shit.

          • Thanks, Sid, but we do not consider manmade CO2 to be a problem and, on the contrary, treat it as the nutrient that all CO2, natural and manmade, is.

            In particular, our suite of technologies includes CO2 as an input in the conversion of coal ash (properly, “coal-combustion residuals”) into a wide variety of high-quality, low-cost, environmentally benign products. Thus do we intend to make coal-fired power plants zero emissions facilities, with any unused CO2 simply released to do what it does best, which is fertilize plants, the past several decades having experienced a global greening (additional “leaf-out”) that is the equivalent of over twice the area of the continental United States:

            https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth

            And we have no doubt that with more and more nation-states (including two decidedly liberal U.S. states: Washington and and Arizona) rebelling against “carbon taxes,” the ability to fund the prevention of the non-problem of “Climate Change” (properly, Catastrophic, Anthropogenic Global Warming) will be null and void.

  2. Leftists’ and RINOs’ insane wasteful spending on wind/solar boondoggles are destroying the electrical grid.

    Ethanol/wind/solar programs must be shut down, and more natural gas/nuclear power stations must be built.

    It would be great if the US developed Thorium MSRs to compete against China’s MSR program, which will have commercial MSRs from 2030…

    We also need to spend a few $billion to protect our grid against EMPs, to avoid $trillions of economic devastation when (not if) the next Carrington Event occurs.

    • SAMURAI … at 10:50 pm
      Leftists’ and RINOs’ insane wasteful spending on wind/solar boondoggles are destroying the electrical grid.

      When George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm” he chose the windmill to represent the boondoggles that oppressive governments promote in order to create an appearance of progress.

      • Orwell was truly a visionary, it amazes me all the time how the Eco-Nazis make it look like Orwell was writing about them with every new piece of climate blather that comes out.

  3. I wish they would do this kind of analysis for the UK. They would find we are doomed to a future of regular blackouts because of closure of cheap nuclear and coal replaced by expensive wind and solar.

    • Phillip,

      The Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilding of Scotland have just released a report about Scotland’s grid and the effect of too much renwable proportion to it. It doesn’t make good reading and critisises the Scottish government for the extent of it’s wind generation. I forget where I saw it so can’t provide a link.

      • I am aware of the report. It only applies to Scotland, but nonetheless, the government has ignored it.

        • Philip,

          as they do.
          They are too busy boasting to the world about their success!
          I understand the U.K. commissioned an analysis on the same subject for cost and benefit some years ago. Cost was about double the benefit but that was ignored as was the damming Stern report recently on electricty prices.
          Why do they not listen, it’s very long overdue that we have some decent M.P.s in parliament at ministerial level.

          • True, as with any such governmental charade. Unfortunately the “King’s New Robes” don’t seem to be very warm although, I’m sure they are virtually lovely. You simply need to be wearing goggles to see them.

      • They have a website, and their energy related material is here:
        http://www.iesisenergy.org/index.html
        There’s wealth of material, including an LCOE spreadsheet.
        I’m not sure which document you were referring to , but there’s plenty there that clearly hasn’t been understood or even read by the Scottish Greens or SNP, as they continue to drive us towards a grid with almost no baseload plants at all (if they get their way and shut our remaining nukes).
        I think I’ve just found my Christmas reading list.

    • There are only 6 coal power plants left in the UK and they don’t operate for the summer… yet we have had no grid problems whatever.

      There is no prospect of UK grid failures. Read the Ofgem capacity reports.

      • Griff, I can see that you are a bit of a comedian. Summer is the time of low electricity demand in the UK, so there are no concerns there. The concern is for future winters when demand peaks during very cold weather when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine and the Government has forced closure of the remaining coal-fired power stations and many nuclear plants have closed due to age. Due to insane government policy over about 20 years, not enough firm capacity is being built to replace them.

        If you believe the Ofgem reports, then you are very gullible.

      • Yes Griff, coal is only 7% of the UK energy production capacity. Turning that off the summer (a laughable claim anyway) probably wouldn’t make much difference.

        The grid is close to capacity. Ofgem is taking serious steps to uncover “hidden” capacity in the grid, though this likely means turning backup gas generation for wind into primary generation and supplementing with short-term emergency generators in strategic areas.

      • Griff: I think you will find that the OFCOM optimism on grid provision depends largely on the emergency measures available when the main grid potentially fails. These measures are very expensive indeed. Witness for example the roll out of smart meters, being, in effect, demand management. This coupled with retention subsidies for emergency back up and voluntary energy reduction add up to an ongoing cost escalation. The blackout may well be avoided; but the brownout will have consequences.
        So the next time you find that your EV somehow failed to charge up the previous night; think on these things.

        The demand management concept is very dangerous indeed to the the rights of the individual. Not to mention the economic cost.

      • ..and it only took massive clear cutting of forests for wood pellets to attain that grid stability. Thanks for nothing.

      • According to UK Gridwatch at this moment, 9% of current demand (~3GW) is being imported from France and the Netherlands via interconnectors. That does not look like security of supply to me. It looks more like managed desperation and an accident waiting to happen.

        • Tasfay: Best to define your terms, otherwise “grid failure” will get redefined. After the failure, griff will explain to you that what you call “grid failure” isn’t really grid failure because… the arctic!

    • I did an analysis of the South Australian situation using the latest (2018) AEMO report & concluded that widespread power outages were almost guaranteed. In a subsequent report, the AEMO came to the same conclusion.

      • I listen to an internet streamed UK radio station while on my way to and from work on the train here in Australia and the number of ads about how good it will be on a smart meter probably makes up 50% of the ads I hear. The ad content is pretty stupid too.

        I think most people in the UK aren’t as stupid as the Govn’t thinks they are.

  4. There is no surprise whatsoever in the conclusion of this “Stress Test.”

    If they spent more than a nickel producing it, the money was thrown away!

  5. “Regulators Confirm Trump’s Concern: Coal And Nuclear Closures Could Lead To Power Outages”

    I don’t find that Trump quote on a short search, but if I did it represents an obvious truth. Sort of like the following famous utterance:

    “When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results.” Calvin Coolidge

  6. Key phrase in the article: “informed planning”.

    What a concept ! — actually knowing the realities, before undertaking actions.

    But I guess just doing stuff to make you feel good overrides that. Hey, it’s for a good cause — never mind the actual effects. Carbon fear unites the world, … makes us one people, … brings us together for a universal, common cause — it’s a gender-neutral, racially-neutral, age-neutral, neutral-in-every-politically-correct-way-neutral enemy. It’s the best thing since sliced bread, as far as the ultimate common enemy is concerned.

    But wait, isn’t coal black, and so the movement against coal is a racist movement ?

    #coalmatters

  7. Some ramblings from an engineer in the power industry. Coal in particular and air quality control for many many years.

    Shutting down base loaded plants is insane and a way for the nation to commit economic suicide. Wind and Solar are intermittent you have to have a substitute when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

    A lot of utilities have shut down several coal fired plants. Not only shutting them down but demolishing them. They can no longer be used period. All of them needed to be shut down since they were old, but there are no new plants to replace them. They will cover the need by already installed inefficient combustion turbines.

    We are currently operating formerly coal fired base loaded units as swing units. Loads go up and down as the wind and sun changes. This means that the units are operating very inefficiently and their life is being dramatically shortened.

    Notice that most commercial buildings have already added or are adding backup generators to their building infrastructure. So during an extended power outage all those generators will be operating in the middle of a crowded city emitting combustion gasses in that city. The air quality will dramatically decrease.

    If we become very dependent on natural gas for our power needs and there is a severe winter the natural gas will be flowing to the power plants to keep the lights on. How about the heating needs of many many homes that use natural gas as their source of heat? That will be low priority. People will seek methods to stay warm that will not be friendly to the environment.

    Those of us with lots of years in the industry have mostly held the view that coal is great resource for power generation and natural gas is great for the heating needs of buildings, homes etc. Coal can be burned and cleaned up if it is used at a central location. Natural gas is a clean fuel that can be burned at individual buildings and homes with minimal impact on the environment.

    • Gary, you say “Coal can be burned and cleaned up if it is used at a central location. Natural gas is a clean fuel that can be burned at individual buildings and homes with minimal impact on the environment.” I agree, and would add nuclear to the baseload generation. And petroleum is the best we’ve got as a transportation fuel.
      Last winter here in the UK, coal was running flat out, and we couldn’t get enough gas as our old Rough gas field storage facility was no longer in service. Some large industrial gas users were cut off to reserve the gas for doemstic heating and the gas-fired power plants. Workers getting unplanned days off doesn’t cause a fuss, whereas blackouts would have been front page news.

    • Amen, Gary. I’m also an engineer who spent 33 years in power generation, most of it in nuclear. The best thing we can do to stretch energy resources is to make intelligent use of our primary sources. First, use nuclear for electrical power generation because there’s a lot of uranium (and yes, other suitable elements) and it has little use outside the power industry. Second, use coal. It’s also abundant and has fewer alternative uses than gas or oil.

      IMPORTANT: Nuclear and coal units can run extended periods (months) with the reactivity in the reactor or the coal stored on site. Oil powered units have more limited storage and natural gas units rely on pipeline supplies subject to interruption.

      Natural gas and oil have more commercial uses, and are easily transported to homes and businesses. Oil is most valuable for transportation.

      I’m obviously a climate change skeptic, so am more interested in keeping the lights on and intelligently preserving our natural resources for future generations.

      • Bob,

        I couln’t agree more, I only wish our government had the sense to see that, espicially the bit about coal stock holding. Coal kept the U.K.’s lights on last winter as gas was struggling.

        • Another risk to gas supplies in the EU zone is that much of the gas is supplied by Russia and most of that goes through Ukraine. No risk there at all. /sarc off

    • Interesting points, Gary. The one benefit of coal is that is often ignored is it can be stored locally, coal piles typically have 30 days supply. Gas plants have to depend on just-in-time delivery via pipelines. One more thing, some of the new natural gas powered combined cycle units are very efficient, with heat rates close to 50% that of older subcritical coal plants. In my state, a 1600 MW behemoth CC plant just went commercial.

    • “Gary Grubbs December 22, 2018 at 5:29 am

      Notice that most commercial buildings have already added or are adding backup generators to their building infrastructure. So during an extended power outage all those generators will be operating in the middle of a crowded city emitting combustion gasses in that city. The air quality will dramatically decrease.”

      If anyone wants to see what that looks like in reality go to Lagos, Nigeria. It’s is worse than just major buildings being installed with generators. It extends to most buildings/businesses and the quality of those little generators isn’t all that good and the exhaust, and therefore the air, is quite nasty.

  8. I agree with Trump on that one
    also on most of his other actions
    but I do not agree with his policy on Saudi Arabia
    and I would be looking to build bridges between nations,
    not walls.

  9. “The report stresses this study was conducted to identify risk only, and should not be used as a predicative forecasted.” Strange, since the NPP my utility owns shut down the number of sporadic outages has more than tripled. I have become an expert in resetting the digital clocks, alarms, cable box, router, etc., etc.

  10. “The report stresses this study was conducted to identify risk only, and should not be used as a predicative forecasted.” Strange, since the NPP my utility owns shut down the number of sporadic outages has more than tripled. I have become an expert in resetting the digital clocks, alarms, cable box, router, etc., etc.

  11. Uses for coal combustion by-products…hmmm…where did the term “cinder blocks” come from?

    I can’t wait for the Big Blackout when all the Greenie Weenies’ iPhones go DARK…….

  12. I am convinced that only mass blackout will force our self appointed political and bureaucratic experts to admit they are totally ignorant of what base load is and what is necessary to ensure reliable,economical electrical supply.
    From the last 30 years of self congratulating propaganda put out by government agencies world wide, the useless and clueless dominate the bureaus.
    The only cure for the collective committee speak madness is freezing in the dark as enraged citizens seek their heads.
    Sorry to be so cynical at Christmas but there it is.
    Delusions of competency are massively destructive in a high tech situation.

      • Well we’ll see how the 9 diesel generators that can gulp 80,000 litres an hour of refined fossil fuel go this summer. If they’re not enough I guess fossil fuels will be to blame as usual.

  13. The Pilgrim Nuclear Power plant in MA has shut down. It was responsible for 84% of the states non-carbon producing energy. New York is fighting a natural gas pipeline which caused imports from Russia last winter. So called ‘Affordable Energy Group’ a front for wind is pushing hard to prevent power lines from Canada to supply hydraulic power. Heaven help us.

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