Energy Associations Continue Fight Against Proposed ‘Bailout’ Of Coal, Nuclear

On Tuesday, a diverse group of a dozen energy industry associations representing oil, natural gas, wind, solar, efficiency, and other energy technologies submitted reply comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) continuing their opposition to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposed rulemaking on grid resiliency pricing in the next step in this FERC proceeding.

The DOE proposal has been widely criticized as a “bailout” for coal and nuclear, and the 12 energy industry groups, along with many other stakeholders, submitted their initial comments by a deadline in late October. Action by FERC is expected by Dec. 11.

In their new reply comments, the dozen energy associations note that most of the comments submitted initially by an unprecedented volume of filers, including grid operators whose markets would be impacted by the proposed rule, urged FERC not to adopt the DOE’s proposed rule to provide out-of-market financial support to uneconomic coal and nuclear power plants in the wholesale electricity markets overseen by FERC.

Just a small set of interests – those that would benefit financially from discriminatory pricing that favors coal and nuclear plants – argued in favor of the rule put forward by the DOE in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR). But even those interests – termed “NOPR Beneficiaries” by the energy associations – failed to provide adequate justification for FERC to approve the rule, and their specific alternative proposals for implementing the bailout of these plants were just as flawed as the DOE plan, according to the energy industry associations.

“The proposed rule is a solution in search of a problem,” says Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Solar is an affordable, reliable, nearly limitless source of fuel. Healthy competition should always promote the best, most innovative solutions. It’s time to embrace 21st-century technologies, like solar, and all the advantages they offer to our nation’s grid.”

In the new reply comments – submitted in response to the initial comments filed by hundreds of stakeholders on or before Oct. 23 – the energy industry associations made the following arguments:

Despite hundreds of comments filed, no new information was brought forth to validate the assertion – by the DOE or the NOPR Beneficiaries – that an emergency exists that requires accelerated action to prop up certain power plants that are failing in competitive electricity markets:

“The record in this proceeding, including the initial comments, does not support the discriminatory payments proposed” by the DOE, state the industry groups.

Nearly all of the initial comments filed in the matter take issue with the DOE NOPR and its claim of imminent threats to the reliability and resilience of the electric power system:

“Of the hundreds of comments filed in response to the DOE NOPR, only a handful purported to provide substantive evidence in support of the proposal. In contrast, an overwhelming majority of initial comments agree that the DOE NOPR fails to substantiate its assertions of an immediate reliability or resiliency need related to the retirement of merchant coal-fired and nuclear generation.”

Grid operators filed comments refuting claims that the potential retirement of coal and nuclear plants, which could not compete economically, present immediate or near-term challenges to grid management:

“Even the RTOs and ISOs themselves filed comments opposing the DOE NOPR, noting that the proposed cost-of-service payments to preferred generation would disrupt the competitive markets and are neither warranted nor justified…. Most notably, this includes PJM Interconnection, … the RTO in which most of the units potentially eligible for payments under the DOE NOPR are located. PJM states that its region ‘unquestionably is reliable, and its competitive markets have for years secured commitments from capacity resources that well exceed the target reserve margin established to meet [North American Electric Reliability Corp.] requirements.’ And PJM analysis has confirmed that the region’s generation portfolio is not only reliable, but also resilient.”

The need for NOPR Beneficiaries to offer alternative proposals reflects the weakness of the DOE’s rule as drafted, but their options for propping up uneconomic power plants are no better, practically or legally:

The energy groups argue plans put forward by supporters of the power plant bailout “acknowledge, at least implicitly, that the preferential payment structure proposed in the DOE NOPR is unclear, unworkable, or both. However, the alternatives offered by the NOPR Beneficiaries, are equally flawed both substantively and procedurally, extending well beyond the scope of the DOE NOPR.”

Citing one example, the energy groups claim that the detailed plan put forward by utility FirstEnergy Service Co. would provide preferential payments far more costly than those now provided to individual power plants needed for immediate reasons (and given a “reliability must run” contract, or RMR):

“Compensation provided under [FirstEnergy’s proposal] would be significantly expanded beyond RMR precedent, going so far as to include bailing [a qualifying] unit out of debt based on an unsupported assertion that revenues are needed to ensure long-term operation…”

Calling the action FERC would be required to take in adopting the DOE proposal “unprecedented,” the energy industry associations reiterate their opposition:

“While the undersigned support the goals of a reliable and resilient grid, adoption of ill-considered discriminatory payments contemplated in the DOE NOPR is not supportable – or even appropriate – from a legal or policy perspective.”

The follow energy industry associations are among those that signed the joint comments:

  • Advanced Energy Economy
  • American Biogas Council
  • American Council on Renewable Energy
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • American Wind Energy Association
  • Electric Power Supply Association
  • Electricity Consumers Resource Council
  • Energy Storage Association
  • Independent Petroleum Association of America
  • Interstate Natural Gas Association of America
  • Natural Gas Supply Association
  • Solar Energy Industries Association

Several other groups and individual energy companies signed the comments, as well.

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