Brrrrring on the energy debate

Source: By Anthony Adragna, Politico • Posted: Friday, January 5, 2018

BRRRRRING ON THE ENERGY DEBATE: The bitter cold weather that is expected to worsen in the Eastern U.S. over the next few days could hardly be more timely from a policy perspective. Ever since Energy Secretary Rick Perry leaned heavily on the 2014 “polar vortex” to justify his controversial grid resilience proposal, much of the energy world has spent three months relitigating the real – and imagined – lessons from that cold snap. To address the stresses they faced on the electric grid four years ago, grid operators have already stepped up their wintertime reliability programs, which focus on making sure enough fuel is available on capacity markets during the coldest months of the year. Now, those steps are set to face their biggest test yet – less than a week before FERC is slated to take “final action” on Perry’s plan to prop up ailing coal and nuclear generators that maintain a 90-day fuel supply.

Few expect FERC to go along completely with Perry’s suggestion to give blanket financial support to coal and nuclear plants year-round, butthe bone-chilling weather nevertheless presents an opportunity for people on both sides of Perry’s plan to defend their position: Any outages will be a rallying I-told-you-so moment for Perry’s backers that FERC should look at the issue more closely, while an uneventful week further blunts his ear-twisting over an inevitable grid “crisis.” FERC’s decision by Jan. 10 could take several forms, including outlining a new proposal of its own or calling for a technical conference to gather more information.

Nuclear and coal boosters were quick to make their case as the temperature dropped. A Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman pointed to rising power prices in the region to note that a nuclear plant “moderates the price risk” and “provides insurance against fuel supply interruptions, because our fuel is in the reactor vessel, ready for use.” The National Mining Association also drew the connection in a blog post: “Attention FERC commissioners: coal shines when temperatures plunge.”

Not so fast, say gas & renewables: While natural gas demand and spot prices surged – the U.S. burned more natural gas on Monday than ever before, breaking its 2014 record – futures prices remained relatively stable, settling around $3 per million Btus on Wednesday, the Financial Times reports. And renewable energy boosters pointed to wind’s strong performance back in 2014. “I think the reality is that when we’ve had real resilience issues, renewables have been there,” Greg Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, told E&E. “I don’t see how you could possibly say that in cold weather circumstances, there’s any data that suggests that coal is coming to the rescue.”