Top DOE Official Tells Coal Conference ‘I’m Here To Help’

Chris White | Energy Reporter

A top official inside the Department of Energy (DOE) reassured West Virginia citizens that the federal government is now in the business of propping up the state’s beleaguered coal workers.

The Trump administration is committed to preventing coal communities from slipping into an abyss, Doug Matheney, the head of the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, told audience members Wednesday at a West Virginia Mining Symposium.

“The good news is I’m with the federal government and I’m here to help,” said Matheney, a former coal miner and an industry advocate. He added that he has seen firsthand what happens to a community when a coal mine closes.

“I went to Washington, D.C., for one purpose and that was to help create coal jobs in the United States. That’s my total purpose for being there,” he said. “I’m not a researcher, I’m not a scientist, I’m an advocate for the coal industry.”

Matheney also addressed a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) decision to not approve a rule that would have bolstered the industry’s prospects. President Donald Trump is working on several ways to help coal workers who were clobbered during the previous administration’s regulatory fervor.

“They understand it is not a level playing field and they need to do something to improve that,” he said of elements within the Trump administration. “We need to find a way to help FERC members understand the importance of coal to the generation of electricity and to the reliability and resilience of the grid.”

The industry was an important cog helping to stabilize energy prices during a recent Arctic blast. Coal production helped slash prices on the East Coast, a head regulator at FERC told senators last month at congressional hearing discussing how the electric grid dealt with last year’s winter storms.

“[C]oal was a key contributor,” Kevin McIntyre, chairman of the FERC, said at the hearing. “It wasn’t exempt from operational problems — there were some issues, as I understand it, with frozen coal piles in certain sites and so on. But it was, no question, a key contributor.”

Coal accounted for more than 40 percent of the electricity delivered during that time on the PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization (RTO) responsible for delivering energy to more than 50 million people, said the group’s president and CEO, Andrew Ott.

“We could not have served customers without the coal-fired resources; that’s the reality,” he said.

PJM burned so much coal, in part, because the price of natural gas skyrocketed during the cold snap, Ott said. New England had to import liquefied natural gas from Russia to stamp down high prices, according to a report from the Financial Times.

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