In what could be an important lifeline for Colstrip and its coal-fired power plants, President Donald Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry Friday to "take immediate steps" to prevent the future closures of coal and nuclear power plants around the nation.
The plan would exempt power plants from obeying a host of environmental laws and spend billions to keep coal-fired plants open.
The White House is planning to issue a directive to the Department of Energy (DOE) that forces the agency to require electricity grid operators to buy power or capacity from uneconomical power plants for two years, according to news reports.More news: Officials identify 2 hikers who fell from Yosemite cliff
DOE's planned intervention into the energy market would last for two years, allowing for a federal study of vulnerabilities in the USA energy delivery and power grid, according to Bloomberg.
While administration officials are still deciding on their final strategy - and may yet decide against aggressive action - the memo represents the Energy Department's latest, most fully developed plan to intervene on behalf of coal and nuclear power plants, pitched to the president's top security advisers.
The plan cuts to the heart of a debate over the reliability and resiliency of a rapidly evolving US electricity grid.
The draft memo from DOE takes the stance that while renewable energy and natural gas have their share of benefits, increased reliance on them "comes at the expense of fuel security and resilience", which the document defines as the grid's ability to withstand and recover from major disruptions, be it adversarial attacks or natural disasters. Both the US coal and nuclear power industries have been shrinking for years, under pressure from cheaper natural gas along with advances in solar and wind energy.More news: Ariya 7 shots ahead at US Women's Open
The country's largest grid operator, PJM Interconnection, says in a statement, "There is no need for any such drastic action".
According to Bloomberg, an unlikely coalition of proponents for both these industries told Perry that they don't see any emergency that would rationalize the DOE taking these extreme steps because "power plant retirements are a normal, healthy feature of electricity markets".
"That is an outrageous ploy to drive American taxpayers to bail out coal and nuclear executives who've made unhealthy selections by investing in soiled and harmful power sources, and it will likely be soundly defeated each within the courts and within the court docket of public opinion. The Defense Production Act grants the president the authority to ensure that the nation's domestic industrial base is capable of providing the essential materials and resources needed to defend our nation and protect our sovereignty, and it recognizes energy production and critical infrastructure as strategic and crucial to that goal".
Invoking national security concerns could bolster the Trump administration's case in any legal challenges over the intervention, said Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard University.More news: Volcano lava river runs into Guatemala village, several killed
As Trump's fossil-fuel energy mouthpiece, Perry earlier commissioned a study to identify regulatory causes for coal-plant closures, but no regulations were found; instead, cheap natural gas was observed to be responsible for widespread industry decline. Numerous plants have operated far longer than anticipated when they were built. The company issued a statement that its grid is reliable and federal intervention "would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers" by raising electricity prices. Low-priced natural gas has lowered the prices that coal and nuclear plants can charge for their electricity.