DOE grid report says shale gas to blame for coal plant closures

  • Susan Phillips
A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by the Department of Energy this week says cheap natural gas is to blame for coal plant closures.

The Department of Energy says coal and nuclear are still needed to support the nation’s power grid, and the main reason for coal plant closures results from abundant, cheap shale gas production. The report had been ordered by Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry who backs coal and has said solar and wind threatened the reliability of electricity production.

The electric grid is in good shape for now despite tremendous changes in electricity generation, according to the report. Environmentalists had worried that renewables would be slammed in the report, they weren’t. The Department of Energy made it clear that the main reason for coal plant closures is cheap shale gas supplies, much more so than regulations or solar and wind subsidies.

But it provides suggestions for shoring up coal and nuclear, including curbing environmental regulations for coal such as New Source Review permits, which are aimed at limiting air pollution. And it encouraged speeding up permits for new nuclear plants.

The DOE’s conclusions are in line with a similar report issued by PJM earlier this year. PJM operates the region’s wholesale electricity market and the nation’s largest grid.

Andy Ott is president and executive director of PJM. Ott says he saw nothing surprising in the report.

“In Pennsylvania specifically, we’ve seen a huge increase in new gas fired power generators and we’ve seen a retirement of a significant amount of coal plants,” he said. “It’s more than just a fuel change, it’s really a technology improvement because the coal units that are retiring are in the 60-year-old range and the new gas fired units are brand new.”

He says the gas plants are about 60 percent efficient in converting gas to electricity while the coal plants were about 40 percent efficient. Ott says the new gas plants will make way for more renewable sources of electricity.

“When you look at renewables, having the flexible gas units actually accommodates them because you need flexibility to accommodate the intermittent wind and intermittent solar,” he said.

Completely missing from the report is any mention of climate change as a reason to move away from fossil fuels.

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