- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is rapidly moving ahead with its support for development of more modern and efficient coal plants, and issued a request for proposals (RFP) on Friday, seeking conceptual designs through its Office of Fossil Energy.
- The RFP is a part of DOE's Coal FIRST initiative (Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative), which supports development of smaller, more flexible and efficient power plants.
- President Trump was elected on a promise to help revitalize the coal sector, but critics say it is unlikely any new plants will be developed in the near future and the DOE's research initiative is more political than practical.
DOE announced the Coal FIRST initiative just a month ago and has pushed out an RFP.
"Coal-fired power plants are essential to a reliable and resilient electric grid. The Coal FIRST initiative represents a major effort to transform and strengthen the future of those plants," Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg said in a statement.
He added the agency is looking forward "to a strong response to this RFP."
But critics say the government has a fundamental piece of the picture wrong.
John Coequyt, Sierra Club's global climate policy director, told Utility Dive the initiative is likely too little, too late.
"No one is going to build a coal plant in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Its operational characteristics aren't consistent with what utilities need," he said. "This is what the [coal] industry should have done 20 years ago — try and solve all their environmental and operational challenges."
That view has been borne out by slew of recent and planned retirements. A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis predicted the U.S. will retire 15.4 GW of coal capacity this year, representing 44 generation units across 22 plants.
By 2024, an additional 21.4 GW of coal capacity will go offline, according to the analysis.
The coal industry, however, says the energy it generates remains vital to the grid. The Coal FIRST initiative "is a step in the right direction," Michelle Bloodworth, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told Utility Dive. "We do need a coal fleet for the future, for reliability, resilience, affordability and diversity." The organization represents major coal producers.
According to DOE, the coal initiative will make coal-fired power plants of the future "more adaptive to the modern electrical grid." The agency says it is looking for innovative technologies and advanced approaches to design and manufacturing.
As part of the RFP, DOE encouraged "broad teaming arrangements that engage architecture/engineering firms, technology developers, equipment manufacturers, and end users."
The agency said proposals will be accepted through Jan. 15, 2019.