October 02, 2017

Manchin Presses U.S. Energy Department nominees about maintaining plants | WV Metro News

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., questioned two nominees for the Department of Energy last week regarding the importance of technology development within the energy sector.

Manchin asked questions Tuesday to Steven Winberg, who President Donald Trump nominated for Assistant Secretary of Energy in regards to Fossil Energy, and Bruce Walker, who was nominated for Assistant Secretary of Energy overseeing Energy, Electricity, Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Manchin stressed the importance of keeping baseload plants, such as those using nuclear and coal, running, noting a Department of Energy study regarding the retirement of coal-fired and nuclear plants.

The report, released in August, stated the growth of natural gas as a cheaper natural resource was the primary reason for the closure of coal and nuclear facilities. The report also noted the impact of regulations passed from 1970 to 1990, but added coal-fired plants had already not been operated as intended because of declining natural gas prices. 

 “If they shut down because right now they can’t compete with the lower prices, they’re not going to come back up. They’ll be dismantled,” Manchin said. “Someone’s going to step up to the plate and say we’ve got to keep some of these in that base for that reliability. Right now, we’re concerned no one is stepping to that plate.”

Winberg said from his 30-years in the commodities industry, he understands the importance of managing during periods of success and downturn.

“When times are a little bit better in the commodity industry, there was more free cash available and we were able to do pilot plants and demonstration projects,” he said.

If confirmed, Winberg will oversee the National Energy Technology Lab in Morgantown. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry toured the facility during a visit to the state in July.

Walker, who founded Modern Energy Insights and evaluates electric infrastructure, said frequencies and power flow control were realized through coal and nuclear power.

“As a number of things like regulatory impacts, EPA rules, low prices of gas, that has changed the diversity or utilization or economic stack of the dispatch of energy,” he added.

The August report recommended allowing coal-fired plants to improve its efficiency without new regulatory approval or cost.