In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the ongoing closure of coal and nuclear plants is "leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation's energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid". Nonetheless, supporting the flagging coal industry was one of Trump's campaign promises, although the president's current energy secretary, former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, has made few inroads in his attempts to convince Capitol Hill and the energy industry that coal-burning power sources should be kept alive.
Perry will need to give his recommendations to Trump on how the US could keep its "fuel-secure power facilities" open.
The memo suggests that the Energy Department could force grid operators to buy power or electric generation capacity from a list of pre-determined power plants for two years, "to forestall any future actions toward retirement, decommissioning or deactivation".
"Too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement", the 41-page memo reads.
The draft memo also states that U.S. Defense Department installations are nearly entirely dependent on the commercial grid, furthering the argument that a reliable electric system is critical, Bloomberg reported.
"This prudent stop-gap measure" will allow coal and nuclear plants to remain open while the department takes further steps to secure the grid, the memo said.
"Orderly power plant retirements do not constitute an emergency for our electric grid", said Amy Farrell, vice president of the American Wind Energy Association.
As Bloomberg noted, there is no guarantee the president would sign off on the directive, but the White House did issue a statement on Friday saying it was weighing different options to keep America's energy grid "strong".
Although controversial, President Trump's imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could provide a much-needed boost to the coal industry. After the Energy Department conducted a study of grid reliability a year ago, Perry proposed a rule that would have compensated coal and nuclear plants for their ability to store months' worth of fuel on site.
That did not stop the coal industry from making new requests for help from the administration. "There is no need for any such drastic action", said a PJM spokesperson about the new idea.
The Trump administration's claims of energy security for keeping coal and nuclear plants online is not supported by the facts, as multiple power networks, including PJM, one of the biggest USA independent systems, point to a recent extremely cold "bomb cyclone" weather event in the United States northeast that showed the regional grid operating efficiently despite coal power plant closures, cited by Ars Technica.
Opponents of the new plan contend the intervention is a solution in search of a problem and argue there are other ways to back up the grid. "Any federal intervention in the market to order customers to buy electricity from specific power plants would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers".
Invoking national security concerns could bolster the Trump administration's case in any legal challenges over the intervention, said Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard University. The federal government has a lot of assets in the Pacific Northwest.