Trump Schemes to Give Tax­payer's Cash to Nu­clear & Coal Bud­dies Thwarted

Trillions - - In This Issue -

On Jan­uary 8, fed­eral reg­u­la­tors voted down Trump's lat­est scheme to bail-out the coal and nu­clear en­ergy in­dus­tries with mas­sive tax­payer sub­si­dies.

With the rise of re­new­able en­ergy and avail­abil­ity of cheap natural gas, the dirty and in­ef­fi­cient in­dus­tries of coal and nu­clear power have suf­fered a de­cline in prof­its.

Un­der Trump's direc­tion, En­ergy Sec­re­tary Perry tried a num­ber of things to di­vert tax dol­lars to Trump's supporters in the dirty en­ergy in­dus­try. He tried adding sur­charges on re­new­able en­ergy, ar­gu­ing that the en­ergy flow from so­lar and wind plants is less con­sis­tent than from coal and nu­clear and so had to be pe­nal­ized. That went nowhere.

Then he asked the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (FERC) to en­sure fi­nan­cial re­turns for power plants that could prove they can stock­pile at least three months of fuel on site. That would have ben­e­fited the sag­ging coal and nu­clear plant in­dus­tries, both of which have been strong supporters of Trump and, more gen­er­ally, the Repub­li­cans in Congress.

Perry also dou­bled down on his po­si­tion about the need for power plants to sup­ply en­ergy at all hours of the day. He claimed that with­out this ac­cess to con­sis­tent power on a 24-7 ba­sis, the elec­tri­cal grid would not work ef­fec­tively. Fur­ther, los­ing those older coal and nu­clear plants for­ever, which is part of what the coun­try is fac­ing, would for him rep­re­sent a ma­jor threat to the “re­li­a­bil­ity and re­siliency of our power grid.” Perry’s proposal was at­tacked strongly by those who ar­gued that his po­si­tions would not only end up forc­ing higher power costs on the coun­try but also dam­age what has be­come a highly com­pet­i­tive en­ergy en­vi­ron­ment. That com­pe­ti­tion has brought power costs down and helped stim­u­late the rise of re­new­able en­ergy across the coun­try.

While it is true that so­lar only pro­duces power when the sun is shin­ing and wind tur­bines only gen­er­ate power when the wind is blow­ing enough to turn them, this power can also be stored and is ad­e­quately sup­ple­mented by natural gas fired power plants.

Amer­ica has a sur­plus of elec­tri­cal en­ergy but does need more trans­mis­sion lines to get power where it is needed most.

The FERC ended up vot­ing against Perry’s rec­om­men­da­tions. It sided both with the crit­ics’ com­ments about com­pe­ti­tion as well as with the ar­gu­ment about the fraud that ob­so­lete coal and nu­clear plants must be kept alive at all costs to en­sure a sta­ble power grid.

In a state­ment made by Com­mis­sioner Richard Glick, who agreed with the FERC’S de­ci­sion to re­ject Perry’s plan, he said, “There is no ev­i­dence in the record to sug­gest that tem­po­rar­ily de­lay­ing the re­tire­ment of un­com­pet­i­tive coal and nu­clear gen­er­a­tors would mean­ing­fully im­prove the re­silience of the grid.” He went on to say that, in­stead, “the record demon­strates that if a threat to grid re­silience ex­ists, [that] threat lies mostly with the trans­mis­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems, where vir­tu­ally all sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tions oc­cur.”

Perry and the White House have not given up on their hope to do some­thing about their strong supporters in the coal in­dus­try. It is a se­ri­ous is­sue for those groups, with util­i­ties hav­ing al­ready, in 2017, an­nounced plans to shut­ter more than 22 GW of coal ca­pac­ity. More shut­downs are ex­pected to be an­nounced in 2018.

Trump’s plans call for re­duc­ing emis­sions re­quire­ments at those plants, in the hopes that this may make them more cost-com­pet­i­tive for the fu­ture – even while al­low­ing more car­bon diox­ide and mer­cury to be emit­ted into the at­mos­phere. Be­cause that would mostly ben­e­fit new plants, it is not con­sid­ered some­thing that will make much of a dif­fer­ence, even if the reg­u­la­tions would stand for enough time to make a dif­fer­ence.

The prob­lem with the Trump and Perry logic is that if one wants to ac­tively look at all of the costs as­so­ci­ated with coal and nu­clear plants, one needs to ex­am­ine not just the in­stan­ta­neous costs of op­er­a­tion but in­stead the true life-cy­cle costs. Both the coal in­dus­try (which has rav­aged lives both lo­cally, be­cause of min­ing and lo­cal pol­lu­tants, and on an in­ter­na­tional scale, be­cause of global warm­ing) and nu­clear power (which is fac­ing a cost of tens of bil­lions of dol­lars when de­com­mis­sion­ing even­tu­ally hap­pens) have bal­ance sheets that are com­pletely im­pos­si­ble to pay for when the ac­tual costs are al­lowed to be ac­counted for.

The mo­ronic at­tempts to sus­tain an ob­so­lete and dy­ing in­dus­try at tax­payer's ex­pense should be taken as the of­fense it is.

There is no tech­no­log­i­cal or eco­nomic rea­son that the United States could not have a com­pletely re­new­able and clean en­ergy sys­tem that sus­tains plenty of well­pay­ing jobs and pro­vides low-cost power.

Dirty en­ergy is a so­cial prob­lem caused by vot­ers who put cor­rupt and un­in­tel­li­gent politi­cians into power.

The con­se­quences are need­less eco­nomic de­spair, a con­tam­i­nated en­vi­ron­ment, ill­ness and death.

We the peo­ple can make bet­ter choices.

Image: Don­key­hotey, CC

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