WASHINGTON (CN) – An Energy Department report released late Wednesday concluded that coal, gas and nuclear are critical to the resiliency of the nation’s electrical grid, and that federal regulators need to do more to protect those industries.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered the agency to research the reliability of the U.S. power grid in April.
The resulting 187-page report suggests that coal plant closures are a direct result of market pressure spurred by “federal and state policy interventions and the massive economic shift in the relative economics of natural gas compared to other fuels.”
Though the low cost of natural gas is cited as the primary cause behind coal-plant closures, the report also places blame on federal wind and solar tax credits, and other state-enforced renewable standards, that it says eat into “baseload” profits.
Over 200 coal plants and five nuclear reactors have been shuttered in the U.S. over the last seven years, and natural gas generators and hydropower sources have filled-in where the grid has faltered, the report says.
Critics of the report say it greatly underestimates the viability of renewable energy and fails to focus in on the robust amount of renewable resources available to operators after grid stabilization, like new battery storage technology and innovative solar power distribution tools.
In a written statement, Richard Graham, the CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, a coalition of renewable energy supporters, said he was happy to see the DOE primarily blamed the low cost of natural gas as a driver of changes in the nation’s energy mix, but said the report “seriously overstates the challenges associated with new energy resources.”
“It also implies that certain power plants are now losing out in the marketplace make an irreplaceable contribution to reliability and resilience, which is not the case,” Graham said.
When coal piles froze, as they did when the so-called Polar Vortex, an extreme winter-weather event, swept across the U.S. and Canada in January 2014, Graham said, wind power is what “kept the lights on.”
But some embraced the report in its totality, including the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry lobbying group.
“A reliable and resilient electricity grid is essential for public safety and health, a sound economy, and national security,” the group said. “We commend Secretary Perry and the Department of Energy for studying the challenges facing the electricity grid.
“One of the biggest challenges is how to preserve the nation’s coal fleet so it can continue supporting a reliable and resilient electricity grid. We look forward to working with policymakers at the national, regional, and state levels to value the important attributes of the coal fleet,” the coalition said.
A spokesperson for the Energy Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.