The Department of Energy’s “Grid Reliability Study” came to the logical conclusion that low cost natural gas-fired power plants are the primary cause for the retirements of old-fashioned coal and nuclear power plants. Moreover, this study concluded that wind and solar power plants were not affecting grid reliability. Essentially, it boils down to simple economics – coal and nuclear are too expensive.
So when economics got in the way of campaign promises to revive the coal and nuclear industries, the DOE put their thumb on the scale and added value to fuels that are stored on-site a power plants. Essentially, the DOE requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to create new incentives for nuclear and coal fuels to make them more economically attractive. Instead of selecting the most cost-effective fuels, utilities are ordered to give preferential pricing to coal and nuclear electricity under the incorrect premise that these fuels are more reliable in the event of a natural disaster.
Poor grid reliability is caused by our archaic transmission and distribution system – not by our fuel sources. In other words, the wires and local substations fail – not the power plants themselves. Recent disasters in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and California illustrate the weaknesses in our centralized power distribution systems. In almost every case the central power plants were intact, but the wires running to homes and businesses were submerged, knocked down by wind or trees, or burned. Notably, businesses and homeowners with their own solar, battery storage and generators were the only ones with power.
Unfortunately subsidizing coal and nuclear power plants will simply increase electricity costs for all consumers, and will not improve grid reliability. A far better solution is to allow utilities to seek out the least expensive power sources, while at the same time encouraging businesses and consumers to generate and store their own electrical power. For more about the DOE’s misguided attempts to prop up obsolete power sources, please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.