Trump Gang Funds Dirty Coal and Nuclear Over Renewables
Besides their obvious environmental benefits, renewable energy sources are cheaper to build, operate and use than fossil fuel and nuclear sources and don’t carry a massive cost to future taxpayers.
Nuclear plants can cost almost as much to decommission as they do to build, pose serious risks to public health while in operation and produce massive amounts of nuclear waste that just keeps piling up because there is no long-term disposal site. Future generations may have to manage our nuclear waste for thousands of years. Until transmutation of nuclear waste is allowed and nuclear plant design is greatly simplified, nuclear is by far the most expensive way to produce electricity. Saner countries, like Germany, are closing all their nuclear plants.
Burning coal to produce electricity does not belong in the 21st century. It is filthy and too expensive when all costs are considered. The mercury from coal-fired power plants has contaminated most of the planet and will damage life, including humans, for hundreds of years as it continues to circulate through the food chain and environment. The CO2 and other emissions from coal-fired power plants are the major cause of global warming and runaway climate change.
Clean renewable energy is by far the most intelligent choice, but it is not as profitable to some of the oligarchy in the short term.
A new set of regulatory changes recently announced by Trump’s Department of Energy will ensure that the United States continues to be burdened with dirty expensive energy merely to enrich a few Trump supporters.
On September 29, Energy Secretary Rick Perry – a man who, if nothing else, has proven he definitely doesn’t know much about this department that he once planned to scuttle if elected President – made the first of a series of fairly bizarre moves. He provided
a total of $3.7 billion of loan guarantees to three Georgia utilities that are trying to finish construction on two nuclear reactors at the state’s Alvin W. Vogtle electric generating plant.
The three companies involved are Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., which is being given $1.67 billion in loan guarantees; Oglethorpe Power, with $1.6 billion of loan guarantees coming; and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which, via three of its subsidiaries, is receiving $415 million in loan guarantees.
The project has already been given $8.3 billion in loan guarantees. With the boondoggle project running over budget and behind schedule (the worst possible of project situations) and Westinghouse, the main engineering company involved, having already declared bankruptcy, one might think that giving more loan guarantees to a group that has already proven it cannot manage things well is a bad idea.
For Perry and Trump, however, this is just another example of ignoring the value of changing course when the situation demands it, perhaps even to renewable and far cleaner, safer energy alternatives. The nuclear industry, which hides behind the veil of claiming it represents clean energy – one of the stranger statements one can make about it – says it is important to finish the work here. One reason they throw out is that the AP1000 type of reactor is from a new generation. They tout this primarily because apparently even if something is unsafe and the companies building it cannot seem to get their acts together to do anything on time or cost, at least the design they are building is new. A second reason is that the project would create a lot of jobs – 6,000 construction jobs are expected for such a massive and complex energy-generating facility, and 800 permanent jobs are likely once the project is completed (also a direct result of the complex nature of the systems involved).
And if that were not bad enough, Perry is also claiming that coal and energy plants are, in some sense, at least, part of our reliable energy production. His logic then follows that, unlike other energy sources, like solar or wind, they deserve some sort of breaks that even go beyond the increased loan guarantees for the Georgia nuclear facility.
This is why he recently asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to agree on new rules for coal and nuclear plants that add to electric grid reliability. Perry claims that these “baseload” plants represent an energy foundation of sorts and should be able to charge for that differently than other sources. They should, he said in his request, be allowed to “[recover] fully allocated costs and thereby continue to provide the energy security on which our nation relies.”
One might hope that FERC, which appears to operate independently of the Energy Department, might push back on what seems to be an obvious distortion of reality. That would, unfortunately, be false hope.
An important reason for this is that FERC is overly beholden to the traditional energy industries of fossil fuels and nuclear power. Another is that this agency’s current chairman, Neil Chatterjee, was appointed to the agency by none other than Perry himself.
During an August 2017 FERC podcast, Chatterjee signaled how he might drive decisions like this one. In that “broadcast,” he said, “I believe baseload power should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix.” He went on to say, “I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, need to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system.”
What Perry and others are doing is creating different classes of energy that separate out as “more reliable” and a baseline source versus “less reliable” and non-baseline sources. The conclusion Perry and his team have jumped to – or maybe “started with,” followed by backing into proving it – is that the old forms of energy are actually more reliable and deserve more financial support, one way or another.
As Mark Kresowik, a regional deputy director for the Sierra Club in its northeast region, said about the topic in a recent interview, “Instead of coal and nuclear plants having to compete against cheaper, cleaner sources, customers would be forced to pay for unnecessary plants.” He went on to say: “I think that states that currently compete and use the markets would leave. I certainly would expect states to walk away from organized markets. It would be the end of competitive markets in the United States of America. That’s not even an exaggeration.”
On the other side of the argument, Paul Bailey, the president and chief executive of the American Council for Clean Coal Electricity, an organization that represents all things related to the in-reality “dirty coal” electricity producers, could not be more jubilant. In recent interview, he said, “The coal fleet has large stockpiles of coal that help to ensure grid resilience and reliability,” clearly picking his words carefully to match the distorted rhetoric of Trump puppet Perry.
Bailey’s words are particularly strange when one tries to frame them compared to their renewable energy alternatives. How is it that having “large stockpiles of coal” makes this sort of “grid resilience and reliability” so deserving of cost absorption? Did we all miss something? Aren’t “large stockpiles of photons” streaming down from the sun or “large stockpiles of wind,” which have been around for countless millennia, somehow at least equally resilient and reliable?
It is certainly true that the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine in the same spot. But it is also true that renewable energy can be stored, and utility scale energy storage is already being deployed. New energy storage technologies completely negate the need for dirty “baseload” energy sources.
The environmental and economic threats of dirty energy are not just coming at the federal level; they are also coming at the state level. A good example is the recent approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) for a massive financial bailout for Firstenergy Corp. and its shareholders.
Firstenergy has a long history of mismanagement and criminal activity, and it seeks to pass the associated costs on to its customers. In 2011, it paid $1.5 billion as part of a settlement to end a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to install pollution-control equipment when upgrading its coalburning plants. To help Firstenergy recover that loss and others, and to keep its failing W. H. Sammis coal and Davis-besse nuclear plants operating, PUCO will require Firstenergy’s ratepayers to shell out an extra $204 million per year for three to five years.
Instead of enriching the shareholders of large obsolete utilities, the money could be invested in renewable energy.
The United States desperately needs an intelligent energy policy that benefits the nation – not the oligarchy. But given the lunacy in Washington and many state capitals, that is not going to happen. So it is up to individuals and communities to build their own intelligent energy systems.
Renewable energy has never been more affordable than it is right now. But you’d better buy your solar system now, before Trump imposes import duties on cheap imported solar panels and before Republicans at the state level legislate more obstacles to clean energy.