Gas pipeline group slams DOE memo to save coal, nuclear plants
- A major natural gas pipeline group on Thursday criticized a leaked Department of Energy memo advocating the bailout of retiring coal and nuclear plants, calling it an attempt to "punish" the gas industry.
- The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) urged DOE not to enact the contents of the memo, which outlined a plan to subsidize retiring plants based on what the agency says are national security grounds. INGAA called DOE's depiction of energy security threats "fundamentally flawed, particularly as it relates to natural gas pipelines."
- DOE called the notion that it is trying to punish natural gas "absurd" and said it would continue its review of critical energy infrastructure under the FAST Act.
The INGAA statement on Thursday took aim at one of DOE's central arguments to subsidize coal and nuclear plants — that they are needed to mitigate against threats against natural gas pipelines, which could disrupt fuel supply to generators in times of emergency.
"The expansiveness of the natural gas pipeline network is a strength, not a weakness," INGAA President Donald Santa said in a statement. "The network’s ability to access diverse sources of supply and storage across the U.S. and Canada makes the system resilient and significantly reduces the risk to gas-fired electric generators by providing the ability, in most cases, to reroute natural gas in the rare event of a disruption."
While all energy infrastructure faces threats, Santa wrote, the DOE memo "focuses exclusively" on threats to gas pipelines and "ignores equally, if not more, serious threats to other critical energy infrastructure sectors."
"For example, an attack on electric transmission would render fuel storage at generators irrelevant," he wrote.
DOE responded to the trade group late Thursday, saying it considers natural gas a "vital part" of the energy mix, but that it also "recognizes that there are serious threats and vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure nationwide, including pipelines."
"The resilience of the nation’s electric grid is influenced by everything from cyber threats to the availability of solar power and the retirement of fuel secure units," DOE spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement. "This Administration believes we need all available energy resources and we are taking a holistic approach to our review of how to ensure the security and improve the resilience of our nation’s electric grid. We encourage others to do the same."
The spat between DOE and the trade group is part of an extended struggle pitting the agency and its allies in the coal and nuclear sector against natural gas and renewable energy groups. Last year, DOE proposed a subsidy package for coal and nuclear plants at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but regulators unanimously rejected it after outcry from the other sectors.
DOE's latest bailout push could allow it to bypass those regulators, however. Last week, President Trump directed the agency to detail recommendations to save the plants on the same day as the release of the DOE memo outlining a bailout plan based on DOE’s emergency powers under the Federal Power Act and a Cold War-era law that permits it to nationalize parts of the power sector.
If enacted, sector experts say the plan would constitute an unprecedented federal intervention in electricity service and potentially upend interstate power markets. Senior DOE officials defended the memo this week, but it remains unclear when the agency will officially act on President Trump's directive.
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