Under the guise of bolstering America’s energy system, the Department of Energy (DOE) wants to bail out failing, expensive coal and nuclear plants.

Last week, head of the DOE Rick Perry penned a letter and filed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to adopt new regulations to help coal and nuclear plants stay afloat. The letter asked FERC to create a rule for a rate structure that would allow certain power plants to recover costs, plus a return on equity.

All energy is subsidized, but the scale is weighted heavily in the favor of fossil fuels and nuclear power. Climate change is a byproduct of fossil fuel burning that is already costing us hundreds of billions each year. Nuclear power has also proven quite expensive and has inherent environmental problems of its own. America produces as much as 160,000 cubic feet of radioactive waste a year, and experts and policymakers have yet to determine a safe and acceptable way to dispose of it. Additionally, nuclear power accidents, like the Fukushima disaster, have led to long-lasting devastation of communities and ecosystems.

As noted by Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, an association that advocates for clean, secure, and affordable energy, this letter requests a rule with something for everyone to dislike. “If you’re a believer in competition and free markets, this rule would insert the federal government squarely into the middle of market decisions. If you are driven by keeping energy costs low, this rule would impose higher energy costs on consumers for no tangible benefit by forcing electricity customers to pay to keep uneconomic power plants in operation. Finally, if you are driven by innovation and technology, this rule purposefully puts a thumb on the scale for existing, century-old technology at the expense of modern advanced energy that is currently winning based on price and performance.”

The DOE wants to grant direct subsidies to coal and nuclear power company owners, claiming these units are necessary to handle the “baseload” of the energy system. But as NRDC and others point out, “baseload” is an outdated term and no longer serves a practical purpose—grid operators are best served by staying technology neutral in their decision processes.

It is hard to view this letter as anything other than a handout to support dirty power and to slow progress towards a greener, cleaner energy system. The letter asks FERC to respond within 60 days.

 

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