War On Coal Is Becoming War On Natural Gas

  • Date: 02/07/18
  • Dan Eberhart, Forbes

A few years ago is was coal vs natural gas. Today, a new front is opening between nuclear and natural gas.

Is the reliability of our nation’s electric power grid threatened by the market-driven retirement of nuclear power facilities? Despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary, the answer according to a new report by the Nuclear Energy Institute, is “yes.”

NEI’s paper, The Impact of Fuel Supply Security on Grid Resilience,” claims that one of the most significant risks to grid resiliency is an over-reliance on cheap natural gas as a fuel source, specifically in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland (PJM) Mid-Atlantic area.

Really?

NEI represents the nuclear industry and the utilities that depend on nuclear generation, so it’s no surprise that the association would release a report supportive of the controversial U.S. Department of Energy proposal to prop up nuclear plants, as well as coal facilities, by requiring the market to compensate them for their stability. But it’s a mistake to knock natural gas for the market challenges facing nuclear and coal.

Utilities are increasingly turning to natural gas to generate electricity because of America’s vast supplies, low prices and lower emissions. Natural gas is now the largest source of of electricity generation, representing one-third of U.S. generation. Interfering with the free market by subsidizing one energy source over another won’t reduce the cost of nuclear power or improve the environmental performance of coal.

The previous administration’s war on coal is turning, under the new administration, into a war on natural gas – both policies are anticompetitive and anti-energy dominance. The current situation is also confounding, given the repeated proclamations of support by Trump officials for U.S. natural gas producers at this past week’s World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C.

The mixed messaging is a clear sign President Trump is serious in his enthusiasm for an “all of the above” energy policy and that he’s seeking an end to past biases against nuclear and fossil fuels. So far, so good. The problem is that he’s fallen into the same trap as previous administrations of trying to rebalance the market through federal favor. Subsidies and special carveouts are not the way to ensure Americans have access to affordable, abundant and secure energy. The administration should instead focus its support on innovation and keep out of the way of American ingenuity. Technological advances in how we produce and use coal and nuclear energy – whether its carbon capture or fourth generation reactors – will do more to help those industries survive than pitting them against natural gas.

A few years ago is was coal vs natural gas. Today, as the NEI report shows, a new front is opening between nuclear and natural gas. NEI looked at a number of potential worse-case scenario “infrastructure events” – from terrorist attack to extreme weather – that could disrupt one or more of the nation’s three regional electric grids and concluded that nearly 18 gigawatts of natural gas generation in the PJM region is at risk.

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