June 6, 2018 / 7:47 PM / in 4 months

U.S. subsidies may not save some coal, nuclear plants slated for closure

June 6 (Reuters) - Several major U.S. operators of nuclear reactors and coal plants said they had not changed plans to close plants in coming years, even after the White House said it would take emergency steps to subsidize struggling operators.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take steps to keep coal and nuclear power plants running, citing a decades-old national security law as justification.

That announcement triggered backlash from drillers, renewable energy producers and environmentalists, who call it an unfair attempt to prop up non-competitive industries and burden ratepayers with billions of dollars of additional power costs annually.

NRG Energy Inc, which owns nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants, agreed.

“We’re very concerned to have consumer money subsidize plants. It’s never good when government starts picking and choosing winners and losers,” said Mauricio Gutierrez, NRG chief executive.

Exelon Corp, the country’s largest nuclear operator, has said in the past that it wants energy regulators and grid operators to find market-based solutions that would pay generators for the around-the-clock power their plants provide.

However, Exelon CEO Chris Crane said at a conference Wednesday that the power grid’s vulnerability needs to be analyzed because “if we don’t focus on resiliency and national security we could end up in a very dire situation.”

New York and Illinois, and more recently New Jersey, already provide subsidies to nuclear operators.

FirstEnergy Solutions, a unit of FirstEnergy Corp, said Tuesday that it still plans to retire four reactors in coming years, along with a coal plant in Ohio, because it does not have enough information about the federal plan. The company in March called on the Trump administration to protect coal and nuclear plants.

New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group Inc said it still plans to shut its last remaining coal plant in Connecticut by 2021, but will keep its nuclear plants in New Jersey operating after state subsidies were approved. Texas-based Vistra Energy Corp, which recently shut three coal plants in that state, declined comment.

Power prices have fallen to record lows in many parts of the country due to cheap supplies of natural gas and increasing use of renewable energy like wind and solar, displacing costlier coal and nuclear power.

Perry in September asked federal regulators to adopt rules to protect coal and nuclear plants from early retirement. Federal energy regulators, however, rejected that plan in January.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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