The study says the grid is fine right now because gas and hydropower can easily shore up gaps caused by the intermittent nature of wind and solar, but that could be threatened if more coal and nuclear plants shut down because they can produce electricity around the clock. The study is open to public comment.
Critics of the study say it's an effort by the Trump administration to help the ailing coal industry. Sierra Club officer Mark Kresowik told NPR's Jeff Brady that "coal and nuclear interests are making a last-ditch attempt to try and preserve their market share, that is being taken up by fast-growing, clean, reliable, affordable resources like wind and solar." And Richard Graham, chief executive of clean energy company coalition Advanced Energy Economy, told Plumer that diversifying America's energy sources makes the power grid "more flexible, reliable, and resilient."
Whether or not the study is biased, it's still a boon for the coal and nuclear industries. Utilities buy electricity from energy producers in what's known as a "power purchase agreement." The gas boom and subsidized wind power have driven down the prices coal and nuclear plants can get from utilities. Some believe the study is the administration's way of "laying the groundwork to justify subsidies for coal and nuclear power plants," Brady reports. Neil Chatterjee, the new head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said coal plants should be "properly compensated to recognize the value they provide," Plumer reports. Nuclear power plants in some states have already received subsidies.