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This administration campaigned on a promise to revive the coal industry in America.  It’s not going well for them. This month’s  Energy News  covers a recent federal decision that considered whether maintaining coal and nuclear "baseload" was necessary for reliable service.  Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Federal Regulators Reject Coal Bailout

When ICL’s energy program works with state energy regulators, we are working with the Public Utilities Commission. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC is the analogous agency that regulates national matters. Both agencies review proposals from utilities and others about  how to build and operate the electric system to maintain affordable and reliable power.

FERC’s oversight includes setting administrative rules that govern how organized electricity markets operate. Unlike Idaho, where our utilities own power plants that serve customers, power plants in organized markets feed power into the market and utilities distribute that power to customers.  FERC rules govern the types of power plants in the market and the prices for each. The structure of these rules governs the type of power plants that actually operate.

Climate advocates engage in FERC rules so that  clean energy is priced fairly  compared with fossil resources, both in terms of providing energy and ensuring a reliable electric grid. Because of massive cost declines,  fossil fuel advocates can no longer claim that coal or nuclear is cheap. It’s just not.

Natural gas plants have been cheaper for years. Now renewable energy is even cheaper than gas. For example, Xcel Energy in Colorado recently released  prices for new solar and wind power, combined with batteries  to ensure reliability, which is  much cheaper than any possible fossil-fueled source.

Having lost on pricing, fossil fuel advocates are now  claiming that coal and nuclear plants are necessary to maintain a reliable system. You may have heard about Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) that asked FERC to provide financial incentives to power plants with 90 days of fuel supply onsite.

My favorite energy journalist,  David Roberts, summarizes the plan  this way: "Perry wants utilities to pay coal and nuclear power plants for all their costs and all the power they produce,  whether those plants are needed or not."

FERC reviewed Perry’s coal bailout and last week rejected it unanimously. Essentially, the flood of commenters from across the energy industry explained that neither cost nor reliability concerns justified propping up expensive coal and nuclear power. In the words of former Secretary Ernest Moniz, there was "no identification of a public good  that merited putting the extra cost on the system.”

What This Means for Idaho’s Clean Energy Future

By saying no to Perry’s pro-coal NOPR, FERC reminded everyone that facts matter when it comes to keeping the lights on and power affordable. An impressive array of energy interests-from conservationists to major utilities-all explained that propping up coal at the FERC level would fundamentally  distort the market place and prevent clean energy development. More importantly, FERC concluded that coal and nuclear power are expensive now and not needed for reliability.

ICL’s job is to ensure that Idaho’s utilities and regulators use this information and national decision to  accelerate Idaho’s progress toward an affordable, reliable and clean energy system.

We have an opportunity to do so in the next six months as Avista seeks approval to be purchased by HydroOne, a utility from Ontario, Canada.  Avista plans to continue relying on the Colstrip coal plant in Montana, despite the majority of plant owners planning to shutter the plant much faster. As part of the approval, we are seeking assurances that HydroOne will address Avista’s Colstrip liability in a manner that  protects Idahoans from paying for expensive and unneeded coal plants.

Together We Make a Difference!

We must all stay vigilant to make sure that Idaho and the nation move toward a clean energy future. Here’s what you can do to make a difference:

  • Forward this blog to your friends and encourage them to  sign up for emails  (upper right corner of our homepage).
  • Text  4IDAHO  to  52886  to receive updates to your cell phone. ICL has an exciting new way to  let you know when and how to take important action!