June 5, 2018 Read More →

Critics pan Trump coal, nuclear support plan

U.S. News & World Report:

President Donald Trump and Republican political leaders spent close to eight years accusing the Obama administration of picking winners and losers in the energy sector, but Trump’s order to the Energy Department last week to prop up failing coal and nuclear power plants does exactly what he vilified – and proposes the opposite of what’s needed to best safeguard the nation’s vulnerable electric grid, experts say.

Citing national security and defense concerns caused by the “rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation’s energy mix,” Trump on Friday directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry “to prepare immediate steps to stop the loss of these resources.” The administration referred to coal and nuclear plants as “fuel-secure,” because they can house their fuel supplies on site, rather than relying on pipelines like natural gas plants.

“If you really want security, you get away from all that and you decentralize the grid,” says David Bookbinder, chief counsel at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank in the nation’s capital. In particular, he continues, “residential solar is the single most secure form of power we have in the United States: It’s secure both from a fuel supply side – no one’s blocking the sun – and a distribution side: it goes from roof into your house, so there’s no problem with the transmission. That is a secure energy supply.”

“Most of the outages occur on the distribution system, which has nothing to do with the power plants connected to the system,” says John Larsen, director in the energy and climate practice at Rhodium Group, a research firm. “That’s not to say the loss of power from a particular plant doesn’t cause a loss of power here and there. But the vast majority of power outages occur elsewhere in the system.”

Experts agree that natural gas pipelines are vulnerable to cyberattack. An attack on a shared data network this spring, for example, forced gas pipeline operators to halt communications for close to a week, although gas transmissions were not affected. However, coal and nuclear plants also rely on software that’s seen as similarly vulnerable to attack – as, for that matter, do renewables.

“Those risks are the same across any type of power technology – we have computers running all our power plants,” Larsen says. “So a coal plant’s computers are no different than the natural gas plants or wind power for that matter.”

More: Trump Plan to Prop Up Coal, Nuclear Won’t Protect the Electric Grid

 

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