By Ari Natter
April 6, 2018 - President Donald Trump said his administration is considering taking extraordinary steps to keep some money-losing power plants alive.
FirstEnergy Corp.’s FirstEnergy Solutions unit asked Energy Secretary Rick Perry last week to exercise his so-called Section 202 authority to declare a grid emergency and keep nuclear and coal-fired power plants in the eastern U.S. operating by guaranteeing them profits. The unit filed for bankruptcy a few days later.
“We’ll be looking at” a 202 declaration, Trump said Thursday while visiting West Virginia’s Coal Country. “We’re trying. We’ll be looking at that as soon as we get back.”
Perry has the power under Section 202 of the Federal Power Act to order a plant online, should he determine it’s needed in an emergency to “serve the public interest.” Invoking it to keep an entire fleet of money-losing power plants online would be unprecedented. The last time the Energy Department declared an emergency of this scope -- one that would order multiple generators to supply power -- was during the Enron crisis in California, when hundreds of thousands of people were facing blackouts.
FirstEnergy didn’t immediately have comment on Trump’s remarks.
Trump vowed on the campaign trail to revive America’s coal industry, which has been squeezed by competition from cheap natural gas and the onslaught of renewable energy. Nuclear power generators have faced the same pressures, resulting in reactor shutdowns across the country.
Natural gas has made power so cheap that U.S. coal plants often don't break even.
The Energy Department has already said it’s reviewing FirstEnergy’s request, which is similar to a plan to compensate coal and nuclear plants that was rejected earlier this year by federal energy regulators Trump appointed.
FirstEnergy’s request has drawn fierce opposition from companies and trade groups across the energy industry, including natural gas and renewable energy interests. FirstEnergy Solutions said earlier this week that, while it’s now in bankruptcy, the company’s still seeking government intervention to avert plant shutdowns.
Trump’s remarks come a day after he was scheduled to attend a dinner with guests that included FirstEnergy lobbyist Jeff Miller. Miller was also once a campaign manager for Perry’s 2016 presidential bid.
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