Energy Secretary Rick Perry has more good news for renewable energy fans, and more bad news for coal. As a kind of early Christmas present for the US solar industry, last week Perry announced a new $12 million round of funding aimed at integrating more solar energy into the nation’s grid. That means more solar jobs coming down the pike. Meanwhile coal workers get…well, a lump of coal.
That’s kind of funny, considering that Perry answers to President* Trump, who used “bringing coal back” as his central theme. Perry himself has also proposed a new rate structure aimed at protecting the nation’s dwindling stock of coal and nuclear power plants, so go figure.
$12 Million More For Solar Energy Grid Integration
For those of you new to the topic, Perry is responsible for a proposed new electricity rate structure designed to slow the torrent of coal and nuclear power plant closures. He handed off that hot potato to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC was supposed to rule on the new rate structure by December 11 but Perry provided it with a 30-day extension. Shocker!
On the other hand, Perry has also made it clear that renewable energy is the wave of the future, so there’s that.
The new $12 million round of funding is a case in point. The program focuses on an area essential to solar grid integration, which is the ability of grid operators to predict and account for solar generation.
Here’s Perry enthusing over the implications for the sparkling green electricity grid of the future:
These projects will address a critical gap in our research, which is knowing precisely how much solar electricity to expect at any given hour on any given day…These tools are becoming more important as the solar industry continues to grow, and will work to ensure that solar contributes to the reliability, affordability, and resilience of our nation’s electric grid.
So, how serious is the Energy Department about grid integration? One indication is three of the research partners happen to be major grid operators in three key regions that are already heavily invested in wind energy as well as solar: California (the California Independent System Operator), the Midwest (Midcontinent Independent System Operator aka MISO), and Texas (ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas).
Solar 1 Good, Solar 2 Better
The new round of funding seems to represent a giant step up for the Energy Department’s solar forecasting program. Back in 2012 a previous iteration of the program called Improving the Accuracy of Solar Forecasting provided funding for three heavy hitting awardees, IBM, NOAA, and UCAR, an 18-member consortium including universities, national labs and utilities among others.
Under the new moniker of Solar Forecasting 2, the Energy Department is aiming high:
These efforts will improve the management of solar power’s variability and uncertainty, enabling its more reliable and cost-effective integration onto the grid. This funding program supports the Energy Department’s broader Grid Modernization Initiative, a crosscutting effort that helps to better integrate all sources of electricity, improve the security of our nation’s grid, solve challenges of energy storage and distributed generation, and provide a critical platform for U.S. competitiveness and innovation in a global energy economy.
The new round of funding also builds on a $30 million funding package for solar energy grid integration announced last February.
The Grid Modernization Initiative includes all renewables, and with that in mind consider that in recent months Secretary Perry has promoted concentrating solar power and approved a major new hydropower transmission line in New England.
More Coal Layoffs Looming in 2018, Thanks #Trump!
Meanwhile, Trump’s record on coal jobs during his first year in office is not exactly stellar. The year was marked by an uptick in coal production, but that’s a temporary blip in a long downward spiral. More to the point, US coal power plants have continued to close at a rapid clip under Trump’s watch, and those jobs will never come back.
Jobs in coal production aren’t looking so hot either. last April, Fortune cited some factors indicating signs that employment in that sector could climb in 2018. However, as 2017 draws to a close the future doesn’t look so rosy.
In October Armstrong Coal indicated that it was looking at 110 layoffs at a coal mine and processing facility in Kentucky, as its parent Armstrong Energy filed for bankruptcy.
On December 19, TV station WAVE 3 News in Louisville, Kentucky reported Armstrong and another company, Thoroughfare Mining, will lay off a total of 526 employees at several coal facilities beginning early next year.
The new tax law championed by Trump could help make matters worse. Although some companies will benefit, analysts suggest the bad news outweighs the good. Here’s a rundown from Forbes:
…many of the largest companies, including Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc., won’t benefit from the rate cut because they have large net operating losses…The industry did notch a significant victory by getting the corporate alternative minimum tax killed — a move executives say will reduce bankruptcies.
Last month Bloomberg offered this insight:
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, the U.S. coal industry continues to shrink, mostly because of issues surrounding the fuel’s environmental ramifications, along with an aging industry infrastructure and a greater focus on renewable energy. Solar and wind are the fastest-growing U.S. sources of electricity.