President Donald Trump told Energy Secretary Rick Perry earlier this spring that he wanted nuclear and coal plants across the country to stay open for national security reasons. An energy expert explains that this move was needed in the short term for grid reliability.
“Coal plants and nuclear plants have their fuel stored on site,” said former Missouri Public Service Commission member and energy advocate, Terry Jarrett. “The nuclear plants, they’re always loaded. I think they change fuel there every two or three years. Coal plants typically will have 60 to 90 days of coal right there on site at the plant for use to generate electricity.”
A great deal of electrical generation now is done with natural gas, which works beautifully when all the pipelines are up and running, but circumstances are not always that way.
“Natural gas normally isn’t stored at the gas plant site,” said Jarrett. “They have to rely on the natural gas pipelines. The major pipelines that actually transport gas, there’s not very many of them. Of course, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster or something could wipe out one of those pipelines and that would leave many, many gas plants unable to generate electricity.”
The directive from the administration is designed to keep plants open until other plans for generation can be made.
“I would call it a stopgap measure, it would be a temporary measure,” said Jarrett. “There’s a lot of plants that are slated to close. Coal and nuclear plants slated to close in the next two or three years. We want to make sure, we have to have them online and available in case we need them.”
One of the situations that has brought about the additional thinking on this point is the electrical needs of the eastern part of the U.S. during the major snowstorm caused by the bomb cyclone last winter. An analysis by DOE released earlier this year indicated that there may have been blackouts at the height of the storm in January had coal not been available for generation.