Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Coal magnate Robert Murray looks like intended beneficiary of federal power-plant proposal

Coal magnate Robert Murray (left) stands to benefit from a proposed rule change that would raise electricity prices paid to any power plant that has a 90-day fuel supply on hand. That would help coal compete with natural gas, which is more costly to store.

Murray, who donated heavily to both President Trump's 2016 campaign and Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry's 2012 bid for the White House, wrote a letter to Trump in August asking for a two-year moratorium on closing coal plants. "One of Murray's largest customers, FirstEnergy Solutions, which operated four large coal-fired plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, was on the verge of bankruptcy - a move that could lead to some or even all of the plants to close and force Murray Energy into 'immediate bankruptcy,'" James Osborne reports for the Houston Chronicle.

Perry and Trump didn't grant Murray's request, but the proposed rule "appears designed to particularly benefit Murray and his company," Osborne reports. Analysts from three independent research firms said only four of the country's dozens of electricity markets would be affected by the proposal, most of them in the core market for Murray Energy's coal. The main market is PJM Interconnection (map).

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal Dec. 11. Chairman Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee, said he doesn't think the proposal benefits any one company in particular and stressed that no one in the administration was trying to influence his vote.

"Outside of the coal and nuclear industries, support for the proposal is hard to find. A coalition of eight former FERC commissioners, Republicans and Democrats, called the proposal a 'significant step backward' for 'transparent, open, competitive wholesale (power) markets,'" Osborne reports. "Lobbyists as diverse as the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas industry, and American Wind Energy Association have teamed up to stop the proposal."

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