WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is weighing a broad array of strategies for keeping coal and nuclear power plants online as a matter of national security, with options ranging from invoking a 68-year-old law to a three-year-old one, according to a senior Energy Department official.
Members of the National Security Council agree that something must be done to ensure the long-term reliability and resiliency of the nation's electric grid, said the official, who asked to speak anonymously about internal deliberations. More than 90 percent of American military installations are served by civilian utilities, and the government has an obligation to ensure those facilities are safe and supplied by electricity, the official said.
The effort is driven by concerns over the closing of many nuclear and coal plants, and the capability of systems to snap back after intense storms or cyber attacks. But the government's analysis is not limited to any single company, region or type of power, the official added.
A final decision has not been made, and the official said there was no timetable for making one.
Environmentalists, natural gas producers and renewable power advocates have blasted proposals for government intervention to help coal and nuclear plants, saying there is no emergency compelling such moves and arguing that they would represent unfair meddling in the power market.
The Energy Department is already working to identify electric generating units that are critical to maintain in a national emergency, the official said. It also is looking at several strategies for keeping them online, as flat power demand and competition from cheap natural gas makes it impossible for some facilities to earn enough to continue operating.
A FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary has asked the Energy Department to declare a grid emergency and steer subsidies to coal and nuclear power plants under Section 202 of the Federal Power Act. But the official downplayed the notion the administration would act narrowly to help a single company.
While the department is considering FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.'s request for emergency assistance, the official said that its broad review was not limited to any single company and the agency was under no obligation to act quickly.
Separately, the administration is considering using the Defense Production Act of 1950 to keep plants in operation. That Cold War-era statute, once invoked by President Harry Truman to help the steel industry, now could be used to order companies to accept or prioritize contracts for coal and nuclear power. The military already uses power purchase agreements to acquire certain types of energy, the official noted.
Administration officials also are examining options under the 2015 highway bill, which included provisions authorizing the Energy secretary to order emergency actions if the president declares the nation's electric grid is under threat.