Administration boosts research funding to save coal-fired plants

Posted Jan 27, 2019 by Karen Graham
In the administration’s latest effort to help the coal industry, the Department of Energy (DOE) is providing up to $38 million in funding for research into improving the performance and reliability of the nation’s existing coal-fired power plants.
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The Department of Energy's decision to boost research funding for existing coal-fired power plants in the United States comes in the same week that a government-appointed task force in Germany released plans for the country to abandon coal-fired power plants by 2038.
On January 23, Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes announced funding is now available for research to modernize the grid and improve the existing coal-fired power plant fleet. “Utilizing all of our energy resources to ensure the reliability and resiliency of our nation’s electricity is a top priority for the Department of Energy, Menezes said in the written announcement.
“Modernizing and advancing the existing coal fleet is imperative to this mission. By improving the efficiency of our baseload generation, we are strengthening the reliability of all our electricity generation," he added.
It's no secret that the Trump administration has been increasing funding for coal plant research as part of its plan to breathe life back into the dying industry, even though coal’s share of the nation’s generation portfolio remains on the decline. In 2007, 28 states relied on coal as their primary electricity source. In 2018, coal is the top source for power generation in only 18 states.
The administration's attempt to prop up coal comes at a time when climate scientists around the world are warning governments of the need to develop policies that will drastically reduce carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
“This funding is in line with the Trump administration trying to do everything it can think of to throw a bone to the coal industry,” Jeremy Richardson, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “It’s sort of like, let’s throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. Fortunately, nothing has stuck yet.”
The Energy Department's latest funding initiative is all part of its Coal FIRST initiative in 2018, another attempt by Trump to fulfill his promise to help his political donors in the coal industry, according to energy industry experts.
The DOE initiative also flies in the face of a report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on January 15, 2019. In the report, the agency forecasts that coal production in the U.S. will fall 3.0 percent this year from 2018 totals. There will be a further 7.0 percent decline by 2020.
According to Clean Technica, the EIA report also forecasts that electricity generation from utility-scale solar generating units will grow by 10 percent in 2019 and by 17 percent in 2020.