Report: DOE might invoke emergency powers to keep coal plants online

Like Mr. Magoo, it appears Secretary of Energy Rick Perry may be at it again.

Bloomberg Politics reporters Catherine Traywick, Jennifer A Dlouhy and Ari Natter (with assistance by Jim Polson, and Tim Loh) are reporting that after being eviscerated at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month and told to forget his order to bail out failing nuclear and coal plants (saying it was illegal), Perry is now trying to circumvent the law by invoking emergency powers under Section 202 of the Federal Power Act to keep some coal plants online.

It should be noted that a Department of Energy (DOE) spokesperson denied to Bloomberg that the plan was under consideration, and the press department said on Twitter the sources cited in the Bloomberg report were “misinformed.”

Still, Perry could, under Section 202, declare an emergency, which would allow him to order some coal plants to stay active to “serve the public interest.” It’s unclear what emergency Perry might concoct to justify such an order. Such a designation would allow Perry to stipulate “reasonable compensation” to the plants to keep them operating.

A possible end-run around FERC shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched Perry and the Trump Administration desperately try to prop up an ever-increasingly irrelevant electricity source in the United States.

During his 2016 campaign for president, Trump repeatedly talked about “saving coal jobs” and derided solar and wind as, alternately, technologies that were expensive (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), didn’t work (ditto) and, in our favorite claim, wind power would “kill all the birds.”

Shortly into his tenure as secretary, Perry ordered a study to investigate the reliability of the U.S. power system, the role of subsidies and the retirement of “baseload” thermal power plants (read: coal and nuclear plants).

And while the 151-page report was less openly political than many in the solar industry feared, it did lay the groundwork for Perry’s eventual request to prop up unnecessary “baseload” plants.

In another completely predictable development, Bloomberg reports this new effort is the result of pressure from coal magnate Bob Murray, who told the DOE that he might have to shutter his coal operations unless the coal-powered electricity plants were kept online.

That reporting is in line with the longstanding belief by many in the solar industry that Trump’s entire energy plan has been predicated on the input of energy companies with vested interests in keeping alive the 19th and 20th century fossil-fuel electricity-generation model.