Utility slams FERC in another plea for coal, nuclear help

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. slammed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday for failing to act to help rescue coal and nuclear power plants from their financial struggles.

In that filing, the utility — which has been waging a multifaceted campaign for federal policy intervention — renewed its request for FERC to provide “immediate, interim relief” to preserve those plants.

FirstEnergy’s latest salvo seizes on recent developments in New England, where grid operator ISO New England has asked FERC to waive tariff rules to keep two combined-cycle units open despite Exelon Corp.’s plans to close them.

ISO-NE warned that if the units at Mystic Generating Station in Massachusetts are allowed to retire, it could create the possibility for rolling blackouts in future winters (Energywire, May 22).

FirstEnergy, which has announced that three of its own nuclear plants will need to retire in the next few years and also owns threatened coal plants, argued that the ISO-NE petition is a “consequence of [FERC] inaction and, particularly, its failure to ensure that RTO/ISO markets contain just and reasonable rules that provide adequate compensation for needed generation.”

The company warned that FERC could face a “flood” of similar requests if it doesn’t take broader action.

FirstEnergy’s argument echoes recent statements from the Department of Energy, which has been critical of FERC in what former officials at both agencies said was an unprecedented manner (Energywire, May 7).

In January, FERC rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal that would have changed electricity market rules to compensate certain coal and nuclear plants.

“Despite the clear need for immediate action, the Commission chose to do nothing more than initiate additional discussions about resilience,” FirstEnergy wrote Friday.

DOE is continuing to search for ways to support coal and nuclear plants, and is weighing employing rarely used authorities under the Federal Power Act and Defense Production Act to order grid operators to keep plants running.

Grid operators have challenged the notion put forward by FirstEnergy and DOE that the retirements of coal and nuclear plants will lead to an imminent grid resilience crisis, and they were not spared from criticism in FirstEnergy’s filing.

“Despite their assurances in the proceeding on the DOE’s proposed rule that no past or planned generator retirements will affect resilience, RTOs and ISOs clearly do not have a full and firm understanding of the imminent resilience crisis or a plan to address it,” FirstEnergy wrote, pointing to the largest grid operator, PJM Interconnection, which it said does not evaluate whether generators’ requests to close will affect resilience.

The company ended its filing by asking for immediate action by FERC to offer short-term relief while the agency continues to study resilience. It argues that its petition is “the same relief requested by ISO-NE” but on a broader level.

“Absent such immediate action, by the time the Commission develops a plan to ensure resilience, there may not be any fuel-secure resources left to help,” FirstEnergy wrote.