A pro-coal group issued a report Wednesday underscoring the benefits of the nation's coal-fired power plants one week after the Trump administration issued its own study on how to support the struggling plants for their resilience and reliability.
"This new report shows the coal fleet is essential to help maintain the reliability and resilience of the electricity grid," said Paul Bailey, president and CEO of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "For that reason, we are especially supportive of [Energy Department's] recent recommendation that policymakers need to establish criteria to value attributes, such as on-site fuel, that help protect the grid against low-probability events that have extreme consequences."
Bailey told the Washington Examiner recently that his group will begin pressing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement many of the administration's recommendations, a number of which involve the commission making rule changes that will help to incentivize the particular attributes of coal and nuclear plants, such as reliability.
The report is expected to help the industry's argument at FERC and other parts of the Washington bureaucracy.
The Wednesday report was conducted by the PA Consulting Group for the pro-coal group, called "The contribution of the coal fleet to America's electricity grid." The report details the attributes that coal plants possess in keeping the lights on.
One of its findings, in particular, may find relevance given the fear of spiking fuel prices as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
Coal can serve "as a hedge" to price volatility, the report points out. "The coal fleet reduces the risk of adverse price changes in other fuel sources, especially natural gas," according to a summary of the report's findings. "While natural gas prices are currently at historic lows, natural gas prices can be volatile due to a variety of factors."
The report underscores that coal can be stored for long periods at or near a coal-fired power plant, limiting the risks associated with transporting fuel via pipeline or rail.
"Over the past five years, coal-fueled power plants had an average of 82 days of bituminous coal and 73 days of subbituminous coal stockpiled on site," the report summary read. "In contrast, natural gas-fueled plants rely on deliveries via pipeline, leaving them vulnerable to supply disruptions, especially when low-probability, high-impact events occur.
"Moreover, at least 30 percent of natural gas in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states is delivered on an interruptible basis," it said.
The coal fleet also preserves fuel diversity, which reduces the risk that stems from low-probability, but impactful, events, such as a catastrophic weather event or a cyber or physical attack on infrastructure.
"As the electricity system continues to evolve, the impact of low-probability, high-impact events that threaten grid resilience is magnified," according to the summary. "These events include potential fuel supply disruptions and equipment failures. Therefore, resource diversity is necessary to maintaining a reliable and resilient electricity system."