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America’s power markets will be wrecked by foolish subsidy for failing coal and nculear plants

Rick Perry’s new coal subsidy could wreck America’s power markets, The Hill, When old, established industries are threatened by new, better technologies, they often go running to Washington for special protections. It is an old practice, generally taxing the common good for private interests. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy has set a new record for gall in this practice in a fairly stunning move that would impose a new tax on electricity consumers and roil America’s power markets for years to come.

Here’s the story: Renewable energy — especially wind and solar — has plummeted in price. Today a new wind farm, for example, is often cheaper than just the operating costs of an old coal power plant. Cheap natural gas creates additional price threats to existing coal or nuclear. And these favorable economics for renewables and gas don’t even count the public benefits they create through clean air, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and avoided fuel price spikes.

This transition motivated DOE’s recent study of grid reliability, after coal and nuclear owners warned that closing their plants and adding renewables would cause blackouts. It turns out, though, even DOE’s study found this wasn’t the case, and that clean energy works just fine on our grid.

So, across the country, in power grids where economic dispatch reigns, renewables are booming, and coal plants are shutting down. This is not a “war on coal” nor is this reality susceptible to change through political pro-coal statements. It is free-market economics, plain and simple.

What can the owners of these old power plants do? They posit changing the rules, so instead of simply being paid for electricity, they get paid for “other attributes” as well, including a novel term among utilities, “fuel-secure power plants.” The idea is that having a pile of coal next to your uneconomical power plant should be richly rewarded, bringing your 1970s technology back into the black.

At first blush, this may seem sensible. Surely having a deep inventory of on-site fuel, be it a pile of coal, nuclear fuel or water behind the dam benefits the grid? Well, it turns out that reliable power is better delivered by a diversity of sources, rather than a few huge power plants. It also turns out that wind, for example, is often more reliable than coal. ……..

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ignored this evidence, and proposed a rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to subsidize the oldest power plants on the grid. His request is anti-innovation, anti-economy, and anti-environment. It is a wholesale repudiation of the free market. And it flatly contradicts Texas’ experience………

It’s not surprising that increasingly obsolete industries go to Washington for protection. This is an unseemly, though regular, tradition. It is outrageous, though, when the government agency charged with delivering reliable, affordable and clean electricity dispenses all these values to invent new rationales, wholly at odds with real-world experience, market forces and their own study, to protect the worst operators on the system. This is a shame at every level. http://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/353944-rick-perrys-new-coal-subsidy-could-wreck-americas-power-markets

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October 6, 2017 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, USA

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