Top aides not considering rescue for coal, nuclear — source

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, May 21, 2018

The National Security Council is leading a new search for policies to safeguard the U.S. electric grid — talks that won’t include efforts to subsidize specific coal and nuclear plants, said a senior Energy Department official.

The NSC Deputies Committee is helming discussions about what steps should be taken to ensure the U.S. energy system — transmission, pipelines, power plants and more — remains resilient in the face of cyberattacks, storms and other threats.

What’s not included: subsidies for any particular type of generation, including ailing nuclear and coal plants that have been asking the agency for financial lifelines. The administration is leaving that option to Congress, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Discussions unfolding on the panel — currently being led by Mira Ricardel, a deputy to White House national security adviser John Bolton — are focused on defense and resilience, not economics, said the official.

The NSC is President Trump’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisers and Cabinet officials. DOE is a permanent member of the council.

Ricardel, who served as a former defense aide to Trump’s campaign and worked in the Pentagon under the George W. Bush administration, is leading the committee, which also includes DOE Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, among others.

The official said the committee could formulate recommendations soon.

Current policy levers on the table — as part of a broader discussion within the standard White House policy process focused on critical infrastructure writ large — include the Defense Production Act of 1950, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 and the Energy Policy Act, said the official.

Even though such policies are being considered, the official reiterated the panel is not suggesting there is any economic emergency and said no singular company’s situation would be factored into any recommendations that may be produced.

When asked what recommendations discussions could generate, the official said it’s not yet clear, nor is there a definitive timeline.

The official confirmed DOE is in the process of identifying defense-critical electric infrastructure under the FAST Act — a move Bruce Walker, DOE’s assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, shared with grid overseers last week (Energywire, May 11).

Walker said that law directed DOE to “identify what the defense-critical electric infrastructure was in the United States.”

When asked whether that designation could lead to financial support, the DOE official said simply pointing out that a facility is important to the grid doesn’t equate to a subsidy.

The official’s comments offer a sharp contrast to a steady stream of reports of the administration considering the statutes to throw certain facilities a financial lifeline.

Separate from the NSC discussions is a direct request from an Ohio-based utility for DOE to directly intervene using federal statute.

In late March, FirstEnergy Corp.’s generating subsidiary made a formal request for the department to use its authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act to declare a grid emergency and direct subsidies to unprofitable coal and nuclear plants.

DOE is still reviewing that application.

A number of grid experts have warned that protecting the power grid by subsidizing coal and nuclear misses other important threats and ignores more affordable and effective defenses (Energywire, May 3).

Reporters Rod Kuckro and Peter Behr contributed.