By Chris White
May 5, 2017 - EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said Wednesday that removing coal production from the U.S. grid would make the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“What would happen if we had an attack on our infrastructure when you’ve diverted to natural gas almost exclusively and you don’t have coal there as a safeguard to preserve the grid?” Pruitt said during a Fox New interview.
His comments come after Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed the agency to undergo a 60-day review of the energy grid in April to determine if green energy subsidies are hurting more reliable forms of energy like natural gas and coal.
Perry’s review seeks to evaluate to what extent regulatory burdens, subsidies, and tax policies “are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.” Pruitt’s decision to weigh in on energy grid issues is another unique difference between the Trump administration and its Democratic predecessor.
“Utility companies across this country need fuel diversity. You need solid hydrocarbons on-site that you can store, so when peak demand rises, you’ve got solid hydrocarbons to draw on,” he added.
Pruitt’s position is not unprecedented. The 2016 Republican National Convention, for instance, proposed the idea of transitioning the EPA into a bipartisan commission akin to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an agency responsible for approving improvements and maintaining the country’s electrical grid.
DOE’s study is being conducted as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a grid watchdog group, focuses on determining the vulnerabilities of an electric grid completely dependent on solar power, wind power, and natural gas.
The group maintains that holding a surplus of coal on power plant premises could stave off possible brownouts or possible attacks. It also reported last year that natural gas and renewable energy technology has benefits but is also problematic in maintaining a reliable source of energy.
Natural gas is a just-in-time resource, the group noted at the time of a 2016 report, that must be transported via pipeline. Pipelines cannot always keep up with demand if there is a spike in electricity consumption during a bout of extreme hot or cold weather, it noted.
Government officials’ concerns stem chiefly from evidence showing Europe and other country’s reliance on solar and wind power have caused a series of rolling blackouts in Germany and South Australia.
South Australia, for instance, has plenty of coal and natural gas reserves, but, thanks to the country’s environmental movement, many of the state’s most reliable coal-powered plants have been shuttered, which is forcing solar and wind power to make up for the deficit.
The state’s growing reliance on solar and wind power “has not only led to a series of technical challenges” but “also increased wholesale price volatility as the state rebalances its supply from dispatchable plant to intermittent generation,” Australia’s Energy Council noted last year.
Nearly 25 percent of homes in the state currently have solar panels installed, and the state gets 41 percent of its power from wind, solar and other green sources. Officials believe fluctuations in the supply of wind power have caused rolling brownouts and blackouts in South Australia.
Germany, which is almost completely reliant on solar and wind, managed to stave off a major blackout in January when German energy suppliers recommissioned its last remaining cola power plants at the last moment.
The country’s power grid was strained to the limit and was in jeopardy of going offline entirely, triggering national blackouts if just one power plant had gone offline. Germany was forced to recommission the plants to keep energy flowing.