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A truck delivers coal to Pacificorp's 1440 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Castle Dale, Utah. Photo: George Frey via Getty Images

In June, President Trump proposed a large-scale intervention by the federal government into competitive electricity markets to bail out select coal and nuclear power plants struggling to compete. The president has claimed that a bailout is justified on national security grounds.

Why it matters:  President Trump’s proposal would undermine electricity markets and cost Americans billions of dollars, but do nothing to address the real security threats facing the grid.

The facts:

  • The grid is at risk. In March, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued an unprecedented cyber alert, warning that Russia was targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including energy and nuclear power. Meanwhile, extreme weather events have impacted and continue to threaten critical military facilities.
  • Power plants aren’t the problem. According to the Department of Energy, more than 90% of outages arise from failures in the transmission and distribution system — not power plants. Similarly, about 90% of military-base electric outages of eight hours or more result from problems with the Department of Defense’s own infrastructure.
  • Trump’s plan would cost billions but produce no national security benefit. A recent analysis estimated that the cost of the bailout could exceed $34 billion over two years. That money would go to private utility shareholders and would do nothing to fortify the grid — or military bases — against cyber attacks or extreme weather.

What they’re saying: Robert Powelson, a Trump appointee who recently resigned from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has said that the bailout “could potentially ‘blow up’ the markets and result in significant rate increases without any corresponding reliability, resilience or cybersecurity benefits.”

The bottom line: If the priority is to address cyber threats to the grid, the Trump administration might want to focus on the Department of Energy’s own “Multiyear Plan for Energy Sector Cybersecurity,” issued in March. That plan doesn't have provisions for propping up uneconomic power plants, but instead includes steps far more likely to get the grid where it needs to go.

David Livingston is deputy director for climate and advanced energy at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).

COP26 head warns Glasgow summit will be "harder than Paris"

Alok Sharma, U.K. COP26 president, in Milan on Sept. 30, 2021. Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

U.K. COP26 President Alok Sharma told reporters Tuesday that the upcoming talks in Glasgow, widely viewed as the last chance to avoid some of the worst consequences of global warming, will be extremely difficult.

Driving the news: Sharma sought to temper expectations and note that the agenda features some of the toughest items that negotiators have punted on at previous summits.

6 hours ago - World

Scoop: Blinken protests Israel settlements approval in "tense" phone call

Benny Gantz (L) and Tony Blinken. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken protested the decision to approve 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tense phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time new construction in the settlements has been approved since President Biden assumed office, and the Biden administration had been privately pressing the Israeli government not to proceed.