By Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
For years the coal industry has been claiming, without evidence, that the large-scale retirement of coal plants would leave us freezing in the dark, putting the electricity grid at risk. Coal executives and coal-based utilities have repeatedly used this “resiliency” argument to push energy officials to bail out uneconomic coal plants, despite the reality that the ongoing retirements of hundreds of coal plants have posed no threat to a stable grid. New reporting out this month has pulled back the curtain on the source of these arguments, as the coal industry renews its push at the federal level to force energy customers to pay billions of dollars more for unnecessary coal-generated electricity.
In recent weeks, the true motives of the coal industry’s “resiliency” argument (which few people took seriously) took shape. Bloomberg News broke the story that a number of electric utilities and state regulators sent nearly identical letters — written by the coal industry’s lobbying arm — to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), urging it to act on a pending decision to bailout struggling coal plants.
That’s right — instead of relying on accepted electric-sector market modeling or engineering experts, these utilities and state regulators sent talking points to FERC from the coal industry.
This proves what energy experts, consumer advocates, and public health experts have been saying for years: The coal industry’s resiliency argument is a made-up attempt to secure bailouts from taxpayers and electricity customers, since coal plants can no longer compete. In reality, over half of US coal plants have retired or announced their retirement since 2010. As those plants retired and were increasingly replaced by cleaner, cheaper competitors like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, this coal industry claim — like so many others — was proven wrong: There have been no blackouts or brownouts without coal.
The coal industry will likely never relent in its attempts to make customers pay for its dirty and expensive power. Coal executives will stick with these shady tactics, but thankfully, people around the country keep seeing right through their ploys. For example, 11 attorneys general just asked FERC commissioners to respect their states’ rights to put policies in place that encourage the growth of clean energy resources like solar and wind. They know that unfair market designs will undercut their ability to protect the people in their states from harmful pollution and to stave off the worst impacts of fossil fuel pollution and climate change.
Every day, more Americans are demanding that we move beyond coal and switch to clean energy that won’t destroy our climate or pollute our air and water but will save electricity customers money.