April 2, 2018 Read More →

Bankruptcy of FirstEnergy’s Power-Generation Fleet Will Test Trump’s Promises to Coal Industry

Wall Street Journal:

The Trump administration’s commitment to coal is under its stiffest test yet after an Ohio energy company made a plea to favor that power source over its many rivals, including oil and natural gas, in a clash that could end with higher costs for consumers.

FirstEnergy Corp.’s fleet of coal- and nuclear-power plants filed for bankruptcy over the weekend, just days after the company asked the federal government for an emergency declaration that would keep many of them open. That forces President Donald Trump’s Energy Department into a decision on whether to intervene under a lightly used, 83-year-old law and compel the nation’s largest electric-grid operator to dispatch power from FirstEnergy’s coal and nuclear plants effectively before any other.

Trump has been one of the coal industry’s biggest boosters, campaigning on reviving a downtrodden industry, and his administration has voiced support for nuclear, too. Both of those fuels are facing tough competition as alternatives—including natural gas, and wind and solar power—have become cheap and more plentiful.

Should the Ohio company’s plea succeed, it could protect thousands of jobs at nuclear and coal plants, as well as their suppliers. But it would hurt rival energy businesses and could raise electricity prices for companies and consumers across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. That poses significant risk to Trump by antagonizing supporters among electricity users and companies in the oil-and-gas industry that have become primary suppliers to power plants.

A broad alliance formed last year opposes a bailout for nuclear and coal plants. The group includes traditional Republican allies in oil, gas and manufacturing that have joined in an unusual pairing with wind and solar producers and environmentalists.

Natural gas accounted for 32% of the nation’s electricity generation in 2017, up from 17% around the turn of the century. Coal’s share fell over the same period to 30% from 50%. The result is that coal- and nuclear-power plant operators are struggling, creating political pressure for federal and state leaders to consider bailouts or tax incentives to slow that shift and to stop even more plants from closing.

Trump faces test on coal with FirstEnergy plea for government help

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