Energy Dept grid report downplayed renewables, stressed coal, fossil fuels


Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, 2008

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, 2008

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The Trump administration hasn't been coy about trying to champion traditional fossil fuels while downplaying the importance and falling costs of renewable energy.

Earlier this year, Department of Energy secretary Rick Perry, previously governor of fossil-fuel producer Texas, called for a 60-day review of the United States' energy grid.

The stated goal was to understand why traditional fuels such as coal and nuclear power were falling out of favor—and what that might mean for grid stability.

DON'T MISS: Trump DoE to critique renewables against coal for grid reliability

The department's report was released last month, and it shows once again that the administration views renewable energy with little enthusiasm.

However, the 187-page report doesn't point coal's unpopularity strictly at renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Instead, it says cheaper natural gas has been the main culprit, a conclusion virtually every energy analyst reached long ago.

Natural gas flaring from oil well [licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user Sirdle]

Natural gas flaring from oil well [licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user Sirdle]

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An abundance of natural-gas generation plants have come online in the past 10 years thanks to the lower costs and increasing supply of natural gas produced via hydraulic-fracturing extraction techniques, better known as fracking.

The report said, "The biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation."

While renewable energy was not called out as the major contributor to coal's falling popularity, it was still noted—though certainly not championed—as a way to continue deescalating reliance on fossil fuels.

READ THIS: No, coal isn't coming back: the reasons in 5 charts

Instead, the study group spent part of their time seeking solutions to revive and expand coal and other fossil-fuel energy production.

To boost coal production, in particular, the DoE's report says the EPA should relax permit requirements for new coal-powered energy plants.

To the question of grid stability, it asks the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to compensate grid participants who provide "baseload" generation that helps keep electric supply reliable.

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Enlarge Photo

While those suggestions were made in the DoE's report, the department itself hasn't necessarily been the ally to the coal industry that many thought it would be.

Last month, the department and President Trump's White House reaffirmed it would not issue an emergency order to protect coal plants threatened with closing because they could no longer compete with plants fueled by much cheaper natural gas.

The DoE ruled the action unnecessary, and the White House concurred.

CHECK OUT: Energy Dept disappoints US coal industry: no order keeping plants open

The order would have come from the Federal Power Act, which allows the U.S. government to step in and aid the nation's power supply during times of crisis.

Many coal plant-operators now say they cannot survive due to inexpensive natural gas and the continued influx of renewable energy.

Any Energy Department plans for policy adjustments to ensure grid stability, in light of its report, remains to be revealed.

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